Stadium no slave to fashion Architecture: Unlike new baseball facilities around the country, the Ravens' home will stand alone in its elegant coat of burgundy brick.

March 18, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

It took eight months and more than 100 bricklayers, but the last of 1.2 million burgundy-colored bricks has been cemented into place at the Ravens stadium, giving the project its most distinctive visual signature.

Designers of the $220 million stadium hope the brick will both integrate the structure with nearby Oriole Park and give it a flourish that will be copied in other cities.

But at least for the time being, it will stand alone. Despite baseball's enthusiastic embrace of brick facades, the Ravens' is the first football stadium in decades to use the graceful, but pricey siding.

The reason? The high cost of laying brick accounts for some of the reluctance. But there is also a sense that the 19th-century motif doesn't mesh with a sport that came of age after the Beatles invaded America.

Concrete, glass, stone and steel -- but no bricks -- were used at new football parks in Charlotte, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Atlanta; and Landover. The same for planned stadiums in Tampa, Fla.; Nashville, Tenn.; Cincinnati; and Cleveland.

Seattle's new football stadium is still in the planning stage, and brick is a possibility -- although a spokeswoman says the odds are less than 50-50. St. Louis accented its stadium with brick, but mainly used concrete.

Those involved with the Ravens' project think that's a shame. Recent football stadium design has tended to stress the newness of the sport, which didn't attain major-league status until the 1960s, and its emphasis on raw power over finesse.

But the game got its start in mostly brick college bowls around the country, some of which compare in age to the most venerated of baseball parks.

"There is a warmth to the brick, an almost collegiate atmosphere. It harkens back to campuses," said Heidi Edwards, an architect and the Ravens stadium project manager.

It also imparts a welcoming texture difficult to duplicate with steel or other materials, she said. "It's tactile. People walk up and touch brick," she said.

Stadium consultant John Pastier of Seattle, who is not connected with the Ravens' project, said brick has not been used much in football stadiums because of the costs.

"Bricks are expensive. Not so much the material, but the labor. You've got to assemble all those tiny pieces," Pastier said.

The Ravens stadium masonry, including interior concrete blocks, has cost $8.9 million to buy and install.

Baseball stadium planners have been less impeded by costs because those parks are smaller and require fewer bricks -- Oriole Park used almost half as many, 750,000 -- and the buildings get more use.

A baseball team plays 81 home games to a football team's two exhibition and eight regular-season games.

"There's a need for greater economy of structure in a football stadium than a baseball stadium. A football stadium tends to be a bare-bones structure," Pastier said.

Much thought was put into the Ravens' bricks. A few sample walls, each a few feet tall, were constructed.

Team owner Art Modell and Maryland Stadium Authority officials reviewed the choices before settling on No. 154 Montgomery, made by Redland Inc.-Cushwa Plant of Williamsport, Md., the nation's oldest continuously operated brick factory.

Designers picked brick for the football stadium to both blend and contrast it with its acclaimed cousin to the north.

Oriole Park's red bricks matched the 19th-century rowhouses and the B&O Warehouse in its neighborhood.

The Ravens' brick is a deeper, richer hue. Combined with the pewter-colored mortar, the masonry is suppose to reflect the industrial flavor of the southern end of Camden Yards.

The brick maker hopes Baltimore can spark a renaissance in brick facades in the NFL, as Oriole Park did in baseball.

The company supplied the bricks for Oriole Park and bid a lower per-brick price for the Ravens' job.

"We're glad to see this use for brick on a stadium. Camden Yards spawned brick stadiums in Texas, Coors Field and Jacobs Field. We think this may spawn brick football stadiums," said Joe Miles, mid-Atlantic sales manager for Redland.

The Cushwa plant made the Ravens' bricks of shale mined from the banks of the Potomac River.

The same plant has supplied much of the region's bricks over the past century, including Washington's Georgetown district, shipping the masonry by barge down the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

The technology is ancient. Brick making has been traced back 6,000 years. The Cushwa plant has modernized and computerized the seven-day process, using kilns that heat the shale up to 2,000 degrees.

Bricklaying is also time-honored, a craft requiring both patience and productivity.

Charlie Smith, a brick foreman in charge of the Ravens' project for Baltimore/Banner Joint Venture, the masonry contractor for the job, said quality bricklayers are hard to find, even in a city as fond of brick as Baltimore.

"Some are natural, believe it or not. A bricklayer has to be of a certain temperament. He has to be able to move. His whole body has to move. He has to be able to produce," Smith says.

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