Outsiders' views

August 30, 1998|By JON MORGAN | JON MORGAN,SUN STAFF

Oriole Park now has a brother.

A very big brother.

Next Sunday's Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game will mark the official opening of the new football stadium at Camden Yards, completing a twin-stadium complex first envisioned in the 1980s.

Whether you hate it or love it, the new football stadium can't be avoided. It's sheer size and vibrant colors demand attention and have permanently changed the look and feel of downtown.

Some perspectives on the change, and the stadium:

Janet Marie Smith, architectural consultant

Janet Marie Smith was the Orioles' chief architectural consultant during the design and construction of Oriole Park. She is now president of Turner Sports & Entertainment Development, where she oversaw design of the Atlanta Braves' Turner Field. She declined an offer from the Ravens to participate in the design of their stadium but recommended another architect whom the team hired.

Smith said Ravens stadium is one of the best of the new breed of football parks but hopes some finishing extras are added and efforts made to more fully integrate the building with the neighborhood.

"I think it is beautiful, just great," she said. "You couldn't ask for better sightlines and views of the field. And the industrial touches are wonderful. ... I love the purple. It just exudes fun."

An early critic of the stadium's titanic size, Smith said she felt the interior effectively diminished the scale and was "very forgiving."

"Football is a bigger sport and deserves a bigger venue," she said.

As for the comparisons with Oriole Park, she said, "They are completely different sports, and the venues should be different."

As the trees recently planted around the base of the stadium grow, they will reduce its visual isolation, she said. But she hopes other steps will be taken to make the project an extension of the city rather than an extension of a sports complex.

The construction of a long-discussed park connecting Camden Yards with the middle branch of the Patapsco River to the south, a project she has long championed, would be a good start, she said.

"You would hope that instead of more surface lots there will be other uses found for land in the immediate area," she said. Restaurants and other businesses should pop up over time, extending the cityscape and softening the industrial edge to the vicinity.

She said the raven heads and other details on the outside should have been larger, to keep them in the scale of the building. She hopes the team will opt for the giant raven sculpture originally envisioned for the southwest corner, but now on indefinite hold.

And once the stadium is named, an attractive exterior sign can be erected, as was done at Oriole Park, to create a "marquee" effect.

"It does still seem to be missing some of the ornamentation that would give it a more human scale. ... It notably is still missing a nameplate," she said.

She's not ready to call it the best football stadium ever built, or to predict it will revolutionize architecture the way Oriole Park did for its sport. For one thing, Oriole Park led off a wave of stadium-building. Ravens stadium comes in the middle of a pack of such projects.

"I think Baltimore ought to be very proud," she said.

RATING -- UP

Jake Embry, community leader

Robert C. "Jake" Embry is a founder of modern sports in Baltimore. He led the effort that raised money to build Memorial Stadium in the late 1940s and was president of the fledgling Colts in the 1950s.

From his seats in the new stadium, Embry said he was struck by the growth of both football and stadium-building - and how far both have come since those early days. Memorial Stadium was built on a shoestring as voters passed, then rejected, then passed separate bonding measures.

"We struggled along on $3 million and then got $3.5million, and they came up with $220 million [for Ravens stadium]. It's really different," Embry said.

When Embry ran the Colts, the team had to beg the league and public for assistance to keep the operation alive. Now, NFL teams generate $100 million to $150 million a year in revenue. The league has displaced boxing and baseball as the nation's most popular sport.

"It is like night and day. The size and dimension of the thing, and the activity. It's just huge," he said.

The stadium, too, seemed huge, dominating Camden Yards. The site emerged as a potential stadium location 30 years ago, when it was an industrial area focused on railroading and manufacturing.

"I think it fits into that site really well," Embry said.

He said the new team fight song is "better than average" but not as good as the old Colts song, which he bought from a local composer.

His only complaint about the stadium: The music is too loud.

RATING -- UP

Crystal Moll, artist

Crystal Moll grew up in Virginia and attended college in Philadelphia. But she fell in love with Baltimore and its neighborhoods and architecture, and moved here in 1989. She now paints urban landscapes here full-time. Her favorite subject is Federal Hill.

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