Oriole Park at Camden Yards celebrates Baltimore, baseball ARCHITECTURE REVIEW

THIS DIAMOND IS A CUT ABOVE

March 22, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

You'll see it in the red brick walls and arches that surround the playing field.

You'll see it in the Camden Green logo of the 1890s Baltimore Baseball Club, emblazoned at the end of each row of seats.

You'll see it in the vintage scoreboard, with its scrollwork and oriole weather vanes -- and beyond, in the picture-postcard view of the downtown skyline.

The link between the two forces that forged Oriole Park at Camden Yards is evident everywhere:

Baseball and Baltimore.

In 15 days, after nearly a decade of planning and construction, the two will become one. That's when the cast-iron gates will officially open to let in the people who will make the city's field of dreams come alive.

They will not be disappointed.

The push to return to traditional values in stadium design has produced a marriage of sports architecture and urban planning that will be a benchmark in both realms.

From the beginning, this intimate, old-fashioned ballpark at 333 Camden St. was envisioned as a place where major-league baseball could be played the way it was supposed to be: under the sky, on natural grass, in the heart of the city. While containing the modern amenities that fans expect, it had to fit the setting so well that it could only be right for Baltimore.

The owner, the ballclub and the designers never lost sight of the goal of making sure the fans were comfortable, the playing conditions optimal and the traditions intact.

With its asymmetrical field and set-back upper deck fashioned of steel trusses, Oriole Park is a fitting addition to the pantheon of green cathedrals that helped define their cities: Ebbets Field, Fenway Park, the Polo Grounds, Wrigley Field.

Yet Oriole Park at Camden Yards celebrates Baltimore along with baseball. From any one of the 48,000 seats, fans will get spectacular views of the skyline as a backdrop to the game. Even the concourses leading to the concession stands have overlooks that offer splendid framed views of Ridgely's Delight, Mount Clare and University Center. It's a brand-new way to see the city, and the city has never looked better.

Put the two together and you have an ornithologically correct bouquet to Baltimore, an architectural anthem to the national pastime. For a city looking to rebound from hard times, it will be a point of reference, solid evidence that there is life beyond the Inner Harbor.

Because the Orioles won't play in their new home until an April 3 exhibition game with the New York Mets, it is not yet possible to hear the crowd roar when the players take the field, to follow the trajectory of a home run, or to gauge how quickly the parking lot empties after the final out.

But it is already clear that the Maryland Stadium Authority, the Orioles and their architects -- a team headed by Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum Sports Facilities Group of Kansas City -- have achieved everything they promised, and more.

They have created a seminal building that will influence the way major-league sports facilities are designed from now on. It holds more lessons for combining sports and cities than the past five decades' worth of cookie-cutter stadiums that were passed off as people places. And Baltimore will be remembered as the city where they broke the mold.

Throughout the design and construction process, members othe Maryland Stadium Authority stayed true to their mission to create "an ideal place in which to enjoy America's national pastime."

As HOK senior vice president Joe Spear sees it, "They don't play the World Series in a bank. This is a place where memories are made."

Many of the best decisions came early on: to put the ballpark downtown, make it baseball-only, leave it open to the sky, and use natural grass. Aligning the third base line so it runs due north meant that the seats face the downtown skyline -- the best possible view.

Saving the 1,116-foot-long B&O warehouse yielded a one-of-a-kind backdrop to right field that will rival Fenway Park's left field wall (the "Green Monster") as baseball's most unusual architectural feature.

One change that distinguishes three-tiered Oriole Park from Memorial Stadium is the middle, or "club," level. It not only has some of the best seats, but also provides access to bars and lounges that offer a level of luxury unknown on 33rd Street.

No matter where they sit, fans will benefit from design ideas that sprang from the goal of building a paradise for baseball lovers.

Many concepts are likely to show up in other stadium projects. They include sinking the field 18 1/2 feet to keep the ballpark's profile in scale with its surroundings, putting seats as close as possible to the action, and creating an asymmetrical field with odd angles and other quirks that keep the game interesting.

At the suggestion of Orioles majority owner Eli Jacobs, designers created a "tall wall" in right field to compensate for it's being

closer to home plate than the left field wall.

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