Ravens stadium is big, big deal Dwarfing Oriole Park, it's among Md.'s largest

January 09, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF Sun staff researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

To understand just how big the Ravens' new downtown stadium is, consider that the Titanic, if dry-docked at Camden Yards, would be a mere 40 feet longer than the stadium and about only one-fifth its width.

The ship's funnel smokestacks would reach roughly to the height of the top of the stadium's uppermost light towers, the first of which will be installed in a "topping off" ceremony today.

Big? You could lay Baltimore's World Trade Center on its side along the 50-yard line and it would fit easily within the stadium's outline. You could hang the world's largest creature, a blue whale, from its tail off the top of the lights, and its head wouldn't come close to scraping the sidewalk below.

It is, in short, one of the biggest buildings ever erected in the state -- 165 feet at its tallest point -- dwarfing the nearby Oriole Park and surprising passers-by with its bulk.

"It's just huge. It reminds me of that movie 'Independence Day,' where everyone comes out in the morning and there's a huge spaceship hovering over the city. It just kind of hovers out there on Russell Street," said Bonnie O'Donnell, a receptionist for a company near the stadium.

Architects and community leaders have long expressed concern about the size of the building, because it serves as a "gateway" structure. It's the first thing many people see as they drive into the city from the south, and it could easily overwhelm everything for blocks around.

It also had a tough standard to live up to: Oriole Park won plaudits for its easy integration into its residential setting. "I think everybody was probably always concerned with the size of the thing. People had a fear about how it would fit into the neighborhood," said architect Peter Fillat of Beatty Harvey Fillat in Baltimore.

Fillat, active in the Urban Design Committee of Baltimore's American Institute of Architects chapter, was publicly critical of the stadium's early designs. But he likes what he sees rising out of the ground, and says the designers have done an effective job managing the project's visual scale.

"It's certainly a massive building. But it's a nice distance from the other stadium and downtown. I think it works. It bespeaks the character of a big-league city," Fillat said.

Polishing water table

Designers felt less of a need to reduce scale on the industrial, southern end of Camden Yards than their counterparts did when building Oriole Park in a more residential area a few blocks north.

Besides, there was not much that could be done. It's just a big building -- much bigger in capacity and square footage than Oriole Park. It will seat 64,800 people to the baseball park's 47,000.

That means more concession stands, more washrooms, more everything.

And it sits on land that slopes down to the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, just 1,000 feet away. That means the water table closer to the surface, so its playing field couldn't be sunk much deeper into the ground than Oriole Park's was or else it wouldn't drain properly.

That forces the rest of the stadium up higher.

"We could only go down so far, so it was up," said Bruce Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority. "I was worried for a year that it was too big. I don't think it is now. I

think it's a nice building."

A few functional factors, besides the capacity demands of football, also have contributed to the stadium's immense dimensions. Designers double-decked the 108 skyboxes to give them all sideline views. Early versions of the stadium called for a single deck of boxes rimming the field between the upper and lower decks.

The result: The top of the upper deck of the Ravens' stadium is 134 feet off the ground, and the lights add another 31 feet to that, pushing the entire structure up 165 feet. On the ground, the stadium is 844 feet by 438 feet. By contrast, Oriole Park's upper deck reaches about 85 feet into the air and its light towers about 140 feet up.

Even though both fields are sunk about 20 feet into the ground, Ravens players will be about nine feet lower than the Orioles relative to sea level because of the slope of the ground and the lower elevations at the Ravens' stadium.

Scale was a big concern at Oriole Park, according to a designer active on that project.

"We tried to make it more diminutive in size, and we tried some tricks of the eye to make it seem smaller," said Janet Marie Smith, who worked on Oriole Park and is now working on sports facilities in Atlanta for the Turner organization.

For example, the brick exterior of Oriole Park ends about 55 feet off the ground, giving the illusion of a building that is smaller than it really is. The rest of the superstructure is steel and concrete, providing a visual break.

Industrial strength

Ravens stadium designers are aware of the issue of size, but don't believe it is as important a factor as it was with Oriole Park, said Heidi Edwards, a design consultant working for the football team.

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