Ravens' new roost 'a strong presence' Stadium: Unlike Orioles Park at Camden Yards, which is steeped in nostalgia, Baltimore's new football stadium offers a bold look into the future.

August 07, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Architecture Critic

The red brick walls are there. So are the arched gateways and wide concourses that offer sweeping views of the city.

But the real story of the Baltimore Ravens' $220 million football stadium is not how much it has in common with its acclaimed green cousin to the north, Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It's how different the two turned out to be -- in size, scale and character.

Although there is a certain resemblance between the two structures, visitors will discover, starting with tomorrow's preseason opener, that the Ravens' home is a bird of a different feather.

There are no nostalgic references to the 1890s, no ornate scrollwork, no ornithologically correct weather vanes atop a vintage scoreboard. If Oriole Park were a graceful stroll into the past, the Ravens stadium is a rocket blast into the future. It's bigger, bolder, and brawnier than its intimate, old-fashioned neighbor.

"It's a strong presence," said Heidi Edwards, stadium project manager for the Ravens. "I can't imagine any building supplanting Oriole Park. This building doesn't say, 'Look at me instead.' It says, 'Look at me, too.' "

Both stadiums are the work of HOK Sports Facilities Group of Kansas City, a leading designer of sports architecture around the world. Six years ago, HOK set the pace with Oriole Park, the first of a string of new-fangled, old-fashioned baseball parks designed for downtown settings.

Now HOK is trying to set the pace again by adding a second major league sports facility to the first one, to create the first dual-stadium sports complex in an urban setting.

Kansas City's Harry S. Truman Sports Complex contains contemporary stadiums for baseball and football, but they're miles from downtown. With the completion of Ravens stadium, Baltimore has become the first city in the country to have two modern stadiums that are side-by-side and within walking distance of its major business and tourism districts.

For its follow-up to Oriole Park, HOK has produced a technologically sophisticated building that is likely to be as well received for football as its cousin has been for baseball.

Seats are close to the action while offering dramatic views of the city. Lounges and corporate suites are posh, without being predictable. Graphics are understated but effective.

The building has an honesty that befits Baltimore, with its working-class heritage. It makes subtle references to the area's history, from an old piano factory to the prehistoric forest that once occupied the site. It will be well served by mass transit.

The stadium even passes the blimp test, with wing-like upper decks that help make it instantly recognizable from the air as the Ravens' roost.

Though built as a football stadium, this is actually a multi-purpose facility, with the meeting rooms and electronics needed to accommodate events from concerts to revivals.

In many respects, it's the new American coliseum -- an open air sports and entertainment complex capable of drawing huge crowds well into the next millennium. That's how this boisterous behemoth promises to round out Camden Yards and distinguish itself from its predecessor.

'Cousin to Oriole Park'

The rationale for creating two stadiums that are compatible but different goes back to the original plan for the 85-acre Camden Yards property, developed as part of a civic strategy to increase the number of attractions around the Inner Harbor and lure people downtown by providing new homes for major league sports franchises.

But the plan didn't stipulate that Memorial Stadium be replaced by identical twins.

Located farther from downtown, with 20,000 more seats, the football stadium always was envisioned as the larger of the two. Furthermore, football's 100-yard grid is much different from the asymmetrical playing fields of baseball, and that required a different approach to seating angles and sight lines.

"This is a cousin to Oriole Park," said Steve Evans, project manager for HOK's design team. "It's not a brother or a sister or a son or a daughter. You can't copy Oriole Park or you diminish it."

The difference between the two buildings is immediately apparent in the way they occupy the two ends of Camden Yards.

To the north, Oriole Park is nestled next to two historic buildings that set the tone for its architecture, the B&O warehouse and the historic Camden train station. On the south, Ravens Stadium occupies a former parking lot bounded by Hamburg, Russell and Ostend streets and the state's light rail and MARC lines.

While the baseball field was sunk 18 1/2 feet, the football stadium couldn't be buried so deeply because of a high water table.

The southern end of Camden Yards is more industrial than the north. There are no buildings nearby to provide a transition in scale between the stadium and the rest of the city, the way the B&O warehouse does for Oriole Park. The strongest architectural influence is a tangle of elevated highways.

A different vocabulary

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