If They Build It: 9 Other Sports Facilities by the Architects of Camden Yards

The Orioles celebrate a win at Oriole Park.
The Orioles celebrate a win at Oriole Park.
Mitchell Layton, Getty Images

In 1983, Chris Carver, Ron Labinski, Joe Spear, and Dennis Wellner founded the first architecture firm dedicated exclusively to the design of sports facilities. HOK Sports Venue Event operated under the St. Louis-based HOK Group, an established leader in the field that was launched in 1955 by Washington University in St. Louis School of Architecture graduates George Hellmuth, Gyo Obata, and George Kassabaum.

After 25 years as an HOK subsidiary, HOK Sports Venue Event principals, including Spear, exchanged their HOK stock for ownership of HOK SVE and rebranded their independently owned, 500-person practice with the name Populous. While its title has changed, the firm formerly referred to as HOK Sport remains synonymous with excellence in sports architecture. It has designed nearly 1,000 projects and events since its inception and has played a role in the creation of some of the world's premier sports facilities. Here's a closer look at 10 of them, including the baseball stadium that launched many more.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

In the firm's early years, Populous architects created Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium and the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis. They also renovated more than a dozen baseball stadiums, with most of those projects involving the addition of luxury boxes. The firm's first original major league baseball stadium, new Comiskey Park in Chicago, opened in 1991, but it was the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in downtown Baltimore one year later that established a trend in ballpark design. The stadium, with its asymmetrical playing field, steel trusses, brick facade, and iconic B&O Warehouse, was a throwback and a gem. "Like the Green Monster at Fenway or the ivy-colored walls at Wrigley, the wall of the warehouse will become instantly recognizable as part of the Baltimore stadium," said Spear, the principal design architect of the ballpark. Camden Yards became the model upon which future ballparks were designed and measured. The firm has since played a role in the development of AT&T Park, Busch Stadium, Citi Field, Great American Ballpark, Nationals Park, PETCO Park, PNC Park, and Yankee Stadium.

Dubai Autodrome

dubai.jpgBaseball stadiums aren't the only facilities on Populous' resume. The Dubai Autodrome, the Middle East's first fully integrated motorsports facility, features one of the most challenging tracks in the world. The venue was officially inaugurated on April 1, 2004. One thousand VIPs, including UAE dignitaries and motorsports celebrities, attended the black-tie ceremony, which was capped with a fireworks and laser show. The venue's 5.39 km track hosts international events and is home to the Racing Academy, which is dedicated to cultivating racing talent in UAE. For a fee, amateurs may take a spin around the track in one of a number of different racecars. According to Populous, the marketing building it created in the adjacent business park was "designed to create a feeling of motion and balance with the surrounding track and infrastructure. With almost no vertical line on the building, the structure defines the DNA of all buildings on the site."

Wembley Stadium

wembley.jpgThe defining feature of London's new Wembley Stadium, which opened in 2007 and is used primarily for soccer, is the 440-foot arch that rises above the venue's roof. In addition to the aesthetic value that the arch adds to the stadium's design, it also functions to support the stadium's enormous steel roof, eliminating the need for pillars and improving the sightlines from the 90,000 seats inside. When closed, the roof's retractable panels cover every seat in the stadium, but not the entire pitch. The stadium's design, which was a joint effort of Populous and Foster & Partners, bears a striking resemblance to a 1941 sketch by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, but Niemeyer said that any similarities between his design for a national stadium in Rio de Janeiro, which was never built, and Wembley were pure coincidence. The stadium, which cost nearly $2 billion to build, opened 4 years behind schedule and 8 years after the old Wembley Stadium, which Pele dubbed "the church of football," was closed.

Taipei Arena

taipei.jpgTaipei Arena opened on Dec. 12, 2005, on the site of the former Taipei municipal baseball stadium and was the first major entertainment building to be built in Taipei in more than 20 years. While the multi-purpose building was designed primarily for sports "“ its natatorium, 20,000-seat arena, Olympic-size ice rink, and tennis center can accommodate a variety of athletic events "“ its high-quality acoustics have made it a popular venue for musical acts as well. According to Populous, the basement of the arena is used to house two gas turbine power generators, which could be used in the event of an emergency. The arena was used for the inauguration of President Ma-Ying Jeou in 2008.

Oval Lingotto

ice.jpg

The speed skating venue was the last major construction project of the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics. Populous collaborated with Studio Zoppini on the design, which received a 2007 Gold Award from the International Association for Sports and Leisure Facilities (IAKS) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). While the building was designed to facilitate fast times, no records were set in Turin. That was in part due to the quality of the ice, which was installed under a tight deadline and can take years to perfect. Since the Olympics, the 6,600-seat venue has hosted the 2006 World Fencing Championships and the 2009 European Indoor Championships in Athletics, as well as numerous fairs and exhibitions.

Nanjing Sports Park

china.jpgAt a cost of $287 million, the Nanjing Sports Park was built in China's Jiangsu province for the China National Games in 2005 and served as a showcase for the Chinese government leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The park includes a 60,000-seat stadium, an 11,000-seat arena, a natatorium that resembles a partially submerged cylinder, a 17-court tennis center, a media center, and outdoor facilities for baseball, softball, hockey, and basketball. According to Populous, "the primary concept of the sports park was to create a "˜people's palace', a multifunctional environment, a combination of world standard sporting facilities with the main stadium as the centerpiece within parkland."

Ascot Racecourse

ascot.jpgEngland's most famous racecourse was founded in 1711 by Queen Anne and closed for 20 months of redevelopment beginning in September 2004. When it reopened in time for the Royal Meeting in June 2006, the venue featured a new grandstand with a 400-yard-long, multi-tiered galleria, 40 internal bridges, and 270 private boxes. The design was driven by Populous' idea that Ascot was more than a place to watch horseracing. "Horseracing attracts a very mobile crowd," designer Rod Sheard told reporters. "The race itself lasts only a couple of minutes, but this is a place for promenading, to see and be seen." Unfortunately, the view from parts of the ground level of the grandstand for those who were there to see the races was obstructed. While this initially drew harsh criticism, Sheard and his colleagues rectified the problem one year later by installing terracing units to improve sightlines.

Wimbledon Centre Court

wimbledon.jpgFor the past three years, Populous has been busy renovating the facilities for the Wimbledon Championships. The firm has increased the seating capacity at Centre Court from 13,800 to 15,000, widening each seat in the process. The hydraulically operated retractable roof, made of steel trusses that support translucent fabric, will be operational when the 2009 championships begin next week. Sheard, who refers to the roof as "the umbrella," came up with the idea for a folding fabric roof out of necessity; the Centre Court stadium is hemmed in and was never designed to support a roof, so there's no place to roll a non-folding roof when open.

University of Phoenix Stadium

phoenix.jpgPopulous teamed with architect Peter Eisenman to design University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals. The stadium, which opened in 2006 and hosted Super Bowl XLII in February 2008, was the first in North America to feature a retractable, natural grass playing surface. This innovative design enables non-football events to be held in the stadium while the grass field, which can be rolled outside, receives the sunlight it needs to grow. The 63,000-seat venue has a retractable roof covered with translucent fabric and was the only stadium in North America to make Business Week's list of world-class sports stadiums.

2012 Summer Olympics

london-olympics.jpgPopulous' work will be on prominent display at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The firm was chosen to lead the design effort for the facilities, including the main stadium. London Games organizers communicated their desire to create facilities that will continue to be used after the Olympics, leading Populous to propose a plan that represents a significant departure from the Bird's Nest built for the Beijing Games. "This is not a stadium that's going to be screaming from the rooftops that it's bigger and more spectacular," Sheard said at the unveiling of the design in 2007. "This is just a cleverer building. This is a cleverer solution." The plan for the main stadium calls for 55,000 temporary seats to be installed on top of 25,000 permanent seats housed in a sunken bowl. The steel structure that supports the temporary seats will be concealed by a porous, translucent fabric wrap, or mural, that will be adorned with flags, images of past Olympic champions, and sponsor logos. A cable-supported roof will cover two-thirds of the seats.

11 Facts About LeBron James

Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

It's possible that no athlete has stood in a brighter spotlight from such a young age as four-time NBA MVP LeBron James. Born in Akron, Ohio, on December 30, 1984, James was a multi-sport star as a kid. Eventually, he became just the second of three NBA players to be drafted No. 1 overall straight out of high school (and the only one to go on to win Rookie of the Year). But even if you've followed his career from Cleveland to Miami (back to Cleveland) to L.A., you might not know these 11 details from the story of King James.

1. Two football coaches changed LeBron's life.

Gloria James was 16 when she had her only child, and when her mother died just a couple of years later, she and baby LeBron lost their entire support system. They spent six or so years bouncing around between couches and apartments in Akron's projects. Then, when he was 9 years old, he met Bruce Kelker, who was putting together a youth football team. Kelker took LeBron under his wing and the Jameses moved in with him so that young LeBron would begin to have some stability. By the end of that year, another youth football coach, Frank Walker, offered to let LeBron move in with his family. After missing 80-something days of the fourth grade because of their chaotic living arrangements, LeBron didn't miss a single day of fifth grade.

2. LeBron James made the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school junior.

LeBron James goes up for a basket during a game with his St. Vincent-St. Mary's high school team in January 2003.
LeBron James goes up for a basket during a game with his St. Vincent-St. Mary's high school team in January 2003.
LUCY NICHOLSON/AFP/Getty Images

In February 2002, just shortly after turning 17, the pride of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School was anointed "The Chosen One" in a now-iconic Sports Illustrated cover story (LeBron went on to get "CHOSEN 1" tattooed across his back). If the league would have allowed it, James would have entered the NBA draft that year, but draft eligibility hinged on graduating high school—so LeBron finished his senior year with his high school team, nicknamed the Fighting Irish. They won their third Division II championship, and the hype around LeBron and his teammates meant they traveled for high-ranking games that were aired on ESPN2. Time Warner even offered their games on pay-per-view.

3. A broken wrist sealed LeBron's basketball fate.

James played both football and basketball through middle and high school, and some have speculated that he could have gone pro with football. But in the June 2002, just before his senior year, he broke his wrist during an AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) game. Because of the two-month recovery time, James decided he needed to forego football season so that he'd be fully healed for his senior basketball season.

4. LeBron subscribes to a "Work Hard, Sleep Hard" philosophy.

If you want to be the greatest of all time, you need to get plenty of rest. A whole lot of it, actually. LeBron once copped to sleeping 12 hours per night, though these days he's more likely to get a solid eight hours, with a nap sometime during the day. That extra shut-eye is key considering just how much mileage the man has logged on the hardwood. As of 2019, in his 16th pro season, he's already the NBA's all-time leader in playoff minutes played with 10,049. That's the equivalent of three extra 82-game regular seasons.

Another thing LeBron keeps in his health routine? A good red. "I've heard it's good for the heart," he told ESPN the Magazine in 2018. "Listen, I'm playing the best basketball of my life, and I'm drinking some wine pretty much every day." He does, however, have discerning taste. "Bron has a supercomputer in his brain" on the subject of vino, former teammate Kevin Love said, and their Cavaliers teammates agreed that he's usually the one they trust to order when they go out. Luckily for LeBron, his new L.A. residence is just down the coast from Napa.

5. LeBron was the first black man on the cover of Vogue.

Only two men had ever made a Vogue cover before LeBron did it in April 2008: Richard Gere and George Clooney. LeBron's cover arrived with controversy, however. Observers noted how much the Annie Leibovitz pictorial, which featured James alongside supermodel Gisele Bündchen, recalled racist U.S. Army imagery from World War I that used King Kong as a symbol of a "mad brute" alongside a white damsel in distress.

6. He's been a leader for labor and is no stranger to collective bargaining.

In February 2019, Akron's finest wrapped a four-year term as first vice president of the NBA's labor union, the National Basketball Players Association. As the No. 2 man in the organization, he played a key role in pushing for greater benefits for retired players and realizing a huge jump in the league's salary cap back in 2016 that changed the financial prospects of the upper and middle tiers of pro players (and helped the rival Golden State Warriors cement a dynasty by buying up a roster of top talent).

7. LeBron wasn't the highest-paid guy on his own team until age 31.

LeBron James as a Cleveland Cavalier in 2007.
JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images

James was the NBA's highest-paid player overall in the 2016-17 season, but he played a dozen years of professional ball before even being the highest earner on his own roster. He was surrounded by a number of league veterans during his first stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, including an aging and injury-wracked Shaquille O'Neal, and James famously agreed to take less than his full market value in order to form a super-team with the Miami Heat in 2010. He hit the top of pay grade during his second go-around with the Cavaliers, and his new four-year deal with the Lakers puts him on track to be the highest paid player ever.

8. LeBron has helped fight for parity in non-sports arenas too.

When Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer was in salary negotiations with Netflix over her starring and executive producing role in an upcoming biographical series about groundbreaking entrepreneur and first female self-made millionaire Madam C.J. Walker, she was struggling to secure a fair payday. That's when James and his business partner Maverick Carter, both executive producers on the show, stepped in to advocate on her behalf. "When I asked for certain things, they had to go and say, 'She deserves these things!'" Spencer said in an interview with The Undefeated. "That type of leadership has been important, and I'm thrilled about it."

9. LeBron married his high school sweetheart.

LeBron and Savannah James
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for ESPY

Savannah Brinson might have attended LeBron's rival high school, but when the senior sports star spotted the junior cheerleader, he asked her out. "I knew he loved me when I left my leftovers from dinner in his car," she told Harper's Bazaar in 2010 of their Outback Steakhouse date. "I'd totally forgotten about them, and he brought them to me. I think he just wanted another excuse to come and see me."

The two have been an item ever since, even after LeBron's fame shot off the charts; they married in 2013 and have three children. "I just thought he'd be a hometown hero for his era and it would be over," Savannah said. LeBron, for his part, appreciates their shared history. "[Savannah] was down when I was at my high school, no cameras, no lights. And she was there with me," he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. "You wouldn't be talking to me right now if it weren't for her."

10. LeBron has been compared to Michael Jordan since he was a kid—first on the court, and now on the silver screen.

LeBron James on the set of 'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.'
Theo Wargo/NBC/Getty Images for 'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon'

The opening scene of that 2002 Sports Illustrated feature—the one when James was a high schooler—showed the teen talking to the superstar as if they were old friends. "The moment feels charged, even a little historic," Grant Wahl wrote. "Remember that photograph of a teenaged Bill Clinton meeting JFK? Same vibe. Here, together, are His Airness and King James, the 38-year-old master and the 17-year-old prodigy, the best of all time and the high school junior whom some people—from drooling NBA general managers to warring shoe company execs to awestruck fans—believe could be the Air Apparent."

Not only has James been living up to the MJ legacy on the basketball court, but he's hoping to at the theater. The original Michael Jordan kid-com Space Jam was the highest-grossing basketball movie ever, and the LeBron James-starring sequel is shaping up to be a slam dunk as well. A summer 2021 release date has been set (which will mark a convenient 25 years since the first intergalactic b-ball tourney), and Black Panther director Ryan Coogler has signed on as its producer.

Of course, expectations are high after LeBron's surprisingly agile performance as a fictionalized version of himself in Judd Apatow's 2015 movie Trainwreck. Critic Ian Crouch even argued in The New Yorker that James was the funniest performer in a film that starred two bona fide comic heavyweights: Amy Schumer and Bill Hader. Here's hoping he can hold his own next to the Looney Tunes.

11. LeBron's son and namesake is also tearing up the basketball court.

LeBron James Sr. once admitted that he may have made a mistake in naming his firstborn son after himself. The pressure that comes with being LeBron James Jr. could be knee-buckling, but "Bronny" has thrived on the come-up and is emerging as the next big thing. The eighth-grader is already dunking with ease at age 14, and he landed scholarship offers from powerhouse schools like Duke and Kentucky before turning 12. But his protective father—who certainly remembers a thing or two about being endlessly hyped as a teen—is definitely keeping a close eye on his son. "He's already got some offers from colleges," James told CBS Detroit in 2015. "It's pretty crazy. It should be a violation. You shouldn't be recruiting 10-year-old kids." But until then, LeBron is happy to sport Bronny gear, the way thousands of other kids wear his.

8 Sports Mascots Who Went Rogue

Doug Pensinger, Getty Images
Doug Pensinger, Getty Images

Nothing livens up a sporting event quite like a team mascot—a polyester-filled costumed character that excites crowds, poses with fans, and raises team spirit. But sometimes, these harmless morale boosters wind up getting a little too involved in the action. Take a look at eight mascots who exceeded their boundaries and brought shame to the costume.

1. The Phillie Phanatic’s Pool Party

The Phillie Phanatic stands behind a police officer
Rich Schultz, Getty Images

Many well-known mascots are hired out to perform at private functions, spreading their trademark brand of cheer to people who recognize them from stadiums. The Phillie Phanatic, the Philadelphia Phillies's mascot of unknown species, saw one such side gig go awry in 2010, when he was booked for a wedding in New Jersey and thought it would be funny to toss a woman resting in a lounge chair into a pool. The unwitting participant, Suzanne Peirce, filed a lawsuit against the Phanatic, the Phillies, and the hotel that hosted the wedding, claiming she suffered shock and a herniated disc among other injuries. Because Peirce didn’t know who was in the suit at the time, she named several men known to wear the costume.

The suit was settled in 2014, but the Phanatic still holds the distinction of being the most controversial mascot in sports. He has been the subject of several lawsuits, including one in which he allegedly damaged a woman’s knees by crawling on her and another in which he was blamed for hugging someone too hard. In 2018, he was accused of injuring someone in the stands by shooting them with a hot dog gun. These misadventures have earned him the nickname "the Big Green Litigation Machine."

2. Tommy Hawk's Pecking Order

Despite the propensity of hockey players to punch opposing players when a dispute arises, their mascots are expected to keep the peace. Tommy Hawk, the cheerleading bird for the Chicago Blackhawks, was unable to keep his wings to himself in December 2018, when he responded to an aggressive fan by body-slamming him in the United Center arena concourse. The altercation, which went viral thanks to some intrepid fans with cell phone cameras, apparently ended with Tommy Hawk getting the best of his assailant. The next day, a Chicago police spokesperson told the Chicago Sun-Times they were still trying to locate the attacker. Tommy Hawk, who was not reported to have suffered any reprisals for the scuffle, is set to be inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame in 2019.

3. Miami Feels the Burnie

Burnie sits down during a Miami Heat game
Eliot J. Schechter, Getty Images

Basketball-nosed Burnie of the Miami Heat found himself playing defense in court after an October 1994 incident in which he dragged a spectator out by her legs during an exhibition game against the Atlanta Hawks in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The woman, Yvonne Gil-Rebollo, sued for $1 million, claiming severe tendonitis. Burnie had lousy luck when he picked Yvonne out from the crowd: Gil-Rebollo happened to be the wife of Puerto Rico Supreme Court judge Francisco Rebollo as well as the sister of Guillermo Gil Bonar, the island’s U.S. attorney. In 1994, a jury found the Heat liable for $50,000 in damages.

Burnie has long had a penchant for causing trouble. In 1997, he was punched by Dolph Schayes, an NBA veteran whose son, Danny Schayes, played for the Orlando Magic. The attack came after Burnie sprayed Magic fans with a water gun. In 2015, the team was sued after the mascot lifted a teacher up during a school appearance to assist with a leg split during a dance routine and tore her hip. A confidential agreement was reached in December 2016. In 2018, an AmericanAirlines Arena security guard named Juanita Griffiths sued for a 2017 incident in which Burnie bumped into her while cavorting. She alleges that the collision caused her to fall and injure her leg. No resolution has been reported.

4. The Cincinnati Bearcat's Snowball Spiral

Few team sports offer more emotional investment than college football, a highly territorial clash of teams that can lead to emotions running high. During a December 2010 game between the University of Cincinnati and Pitt, the Cincinnati Bearcat began to spend an inordinate amount of time pelting people in the stands with snowballs. After security cautioned him to stop, the Bearcat became unruly and officials were forced to wrestle him to the ground. He was detained and cited for disorderly conduct.

5. Sebastian the Ibis's Fowl Play

Sebastian the Ibis appears during a University of Miami game
Streeter Lecka, Getty Images

Mascots often think of ways to put an entertaining spin on games, from dancing with fans to tossing giveaways into the crowd. In 1989, University of Miami mascot Sebastian the Ibis thought it would be amusing to walk onto the field carrying a fire extinguisher, ostensibly to put out the flaming spear of rival mascot Chief Osceola of Florida State University. Sebastian was spotted by a police officer, who was not enthused about the idea and tried to grab the extinguisher. In the ensuing melee, an officer was sprayed and Sebastian was tossed against a fence, while cops attempted to bend his wings behind his back. Perhaps sensing arresting a bird was not going to end well for anyone, authorities released Sebastian and cautioned him about trying to interfere with the ritual. The bird maintained he would never have actually put out the flame.

6. Harvey the Hound Loses His Tongue

When it comes to crossing over into hostile territory, it pays to be careful. That lesson was lost on Harvey the Hound, the mascot for the Calgary Flames hockey team, who opted to climb into the bleachers behind Craig MacTavish, head coach of the Edmonton Oilers, in January 2003. Following a protracted bit of taunting, MacTavish reached up, grabbed Harvey’s lolling tongue, and ripped it out of his mouth. A spokesperson for the Flames later said that Harvey was not supposed to be so close to the opposing team.

7. Georgia's Exploding Bulldog

Smokey appears during a Tennessee Volunteers game
Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

Prior to an NCAA women’s basketball title match between the University of Tennessee and the University of Georgia in November 1996, Tennessee's mascot—a bluetick coonhound named Smokey—decided to have a little fun with a stuffed bulldog he brought out to center court for demonstration purposes. Smokey improvised a pro wrestling match, battering and smashing the plush animal with fierce blows. Smokey then delivered an elbow, which prompted his adversary to explode, the foam balls inside spreading all over the hardwood. After pausing for cleanup, game officials ejected Smokey.

8. Bob the Shark's Ill-Advised Attack

Bob the Shark appears with Julio the Octopus and Spike the Sea Dragon during the Great Sea Race at a Miami Marlins game
Marc Serota, Getty Images

In 2013, Beth Fedornak was attending a Miami Marlins game and watched as a costumed character named Bob the Shark was trotted out as part of the entertainment between innings. In the performance, Bob races other sea creatures like Julio the Octopus and Angel the Stone Crab. Suddenly, Bob was upon Fedornak, and tried to mime biting her head. Fedornak claimed the interaction caused her severe neck pain and injuries. She sued in 2015. The case went to mediation in 2017 in the hopes of avoiding a jury trial, but no resolution was disclosed. The team ended the sea creature race in 2018, retaining only the services of a single mascot: Billy the Marlin.

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