THIS DIAMOND IS A CUT ABOVE Oriole Park at Camden Yards celebrates Baltimore, baseball ARCHITECTURE REVIEW

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.

Amenities include a more diverse food and beverage menu, and a total of 16 dining areas and party suites. In all, ARA has more than 60,000 square feet of retail space -- as much as in the Light Street pavilion of Harborplace.

Service areas for delivery trucks are below street level so that land around the park is kept free for the public. Finally, team facilities are among the finest in the American League.

If advances in sports design were all that Oriole Park achieved, iwould be far better than Memorial Stadium, but it would not be the breakthrough building it is.

As much as Oriole Park was meant to please baseball purists, what really sets it apart is the way the designers melded sports architecture with urban design to create a building that fits Baltimore perfectly.

The fit is so good, the feeling so utterly familiar, that many first-time visitors may think they've been there before.


This response would be triggered by design details intended to evoke memories of older ballparks and by the fact that this park frames views that are quite familiar, such as the rowhouses of West Baltimore.

The respectful treatment for the cityscape grows out of a master plan for the 85-acre site that prescribed a way to knit the ballpark into the cityscape, rather than dropping it from the sky.

Developed by RTKL Associates and Wallace Roberts & Todd, with help from the city planning department and many others, the plan called for radical thinking about stadium design, including saving the warehouse and reopening Eutaw Street as part of the lower concourse. Besides making good urban-design sense, the recommendations coincided with the old-time spirit the Orioles wanted to cultivate.

The site planning provided guidelines that helped HOK shape a ballpark to co-exist with the train-like warehouse and respond to West Baltimore's clashing street grids.

By designing a shell that comes up to the warehouse but doesn't touch it, the two supersized building elements have equal weight. They not only co-exist but reinforce each other. Along with Camden Station, whose exterior has been artfully restored, the warehouse will instantly identify Camden Yards as Baltimore's home for baseball.

Once the siting issues were resolved, other design decisions followed logically. The architects broke down the ballpark's apparent scale by setting the upper deck back from the street, so passers-by see what amounts to a five-story facade rather than a nine-story facade.


Their decision to use steel trusses rather than concrete to support the upper deck makes the building surprisingly light and transparent, like many older ballparks.

Setting the top deck back also resulted in the creation of a semicircular viewing platform five stories off the ground that provides splendid views of Ridgely's Delight, the University of Maryland and the central business district.

Such vistas make it a ballpark that engages the city, rather than standing alone like a fortress. Fans can look out and feel a part of the city, while people in the city can look in and participate in the event at the ballpark.

Another important break from the recent past came in the exterior finishes. What makes so many stadiums from the 1960s and 1970s look like cold, alien objects is that they were essentially feats of modern engineering, with little embellishment add warmth or character.

In this case, the architects took components that typically have been left to engineers, such as the exit ramps and elevator towers, and turned them into architecture, cladding them in a red brick and precast stone veneer along with the rest of the facade.

The brick treatment and arched openings represent a clear response to the brick warehouse and other buildings nearby, while giving the ballpark a more human scale. Each facade looks different, reflecting the area it faces.


Entries are marked with street names as well as gate numbers, making it easy for fans to remember where they came in.

Through steps such as these, the architects were able to interweave the ballpark with the character of the city.

Contributing even more to the project's success was a painstaking attention to detail. Everything visible from the seats has been designed to reinforce the theme of traditional baseball, from the color and shape of the slatted seats themselves to the design of the steel sunscreen.

Although none of the construction budget was set aside for public art, there is a good deal of it in signs, banners and advertisements throughout the park, much of it by graphic designer David Ashton.

A burst of tree-planting, proposed by Wallace Roberts & Todd, has transformed Oriole Park into a true park. It's a perfect symbol for the new baseball season, and a major step toward fulfilling the mayor's goal of "greening" the city.

Given how well Oriole Park has turned out, it is inevitable thaother ballclubs will want to clone it. That is already happening to some degree, with projects such as the neo-traditional ballpark that the Texas Rangers have proposed for Arlington.


The urge to imitate is worrisome to HOK, which doesn't want to be stereotyped as the firm that specializes in old-fashioned ballparks. But those who copy Baltimore's design for the sake of imitation have not fully understood what HOK has done.

The significance of Oriole Park at Camden Yards is not that it's old-fashioned. It's that ballparks can be made better if clients abandon easy formulas and create facilities that suit their own needs.

The old-fashioned approach was appropriate for Baltimore, a city steeped in tradition and blessed with historic buildings that set the tone for the area.

But it isn't appropriate for every city. The designers took the project beyond the level of an engineering exercise and made it a work of architecture that responds to the team's needs while capturing the city's spirit. The lesson is not to make nostalgia the new cookie cutter. The lesson is that the best solutions come out of the place itself.

If you walk into the park for the first time and feel as if you'vbeen there before, you'll know they have succeeded.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards at a glance


Oriole Park's C-shaped seating bowl has three tiers, with 17,000 seats in the upper deck, 5,000 in the middle "club" level and 24,800 in the lower deck seats. The 1,800 bleacher seats, at $4 each, are located just below the scoreboard at right center. In addition, there are 72 luxury sky boxes on the club level, seating between 10 and 14 people each, and three large party suites behind left field that are rented on a per-game basis.

The asymmetrical field, which is expected to favor left-handed hitters, is natural grass rather than artificial turf. It features a state-of-the-art vacuum drainage system designed to keep rain delays as brief as possible.

The center field wall is 400 feet away from home plate. The right foul line extends 319 feet from home plate, left center is 410 feet away, and the distance down the left foul line is 335 feet. It would take a 460-foot shot to hit the warehouse beyond the right field fence.

Back-to-back bullpens are visible behind center field.

Construction cost $106.5 million. Site acquisition cost $99.9 million, and another $18.6 million was spent to cover related costs, including restoration of Camden Station, exterior renovation of the south end of the B&O; warehouse, and work on the nearby railroad tracks.

The ballpark can be entered at four points: from the south near the long B&O; Warehouse, from behind home plate near Russell Street, from the northwest at the intersection of Russell and Camden streets, and from the north near Camden and Eutaw streets.


The chief points of pedestrian access will be from Pratt Street, the boulevard best designed to handle large crowds, and the parking lot to the south. Camden Street, just beyond the outfield wall, will be closed to vehicular traffic before and after games, making it a pedestrian-oriented transition zone between the stadium and the city.

Another lively space will be Eutaw Street south of Camden Street, between the B&O; Warehouse and the stadium. When games aren't in progress, it will be open to pedestrians, the way Lexington Mall is. During games, it will be part of the stadium's lower concourse, accessible only to people with tickets.

South of the stadium, Eutaw Street has been extended as a promenade to the main stadium parking lot, so fans can walk easily to and from cars parked there.

What others have said about the stadium

George F. Will, columnist and Oriole trustee: "No fan who goes to this park will find a place that's better, with the possible exception of Fenway and, maybe, Wrigley."

Paul Goldberger, The New York Times: If major league baseball offered awards for architecture, however, this team would win hands down. For the design for the Orioles' new 46,000-seat stadium in downtown Baltimore, ... is the best plan for a major-league baseball park in more than a generation. It if is half as good as the models and renderings suggest, it will represent a return to baseball as it should be: a game played on grass, not turf; under the sky, not a dome; in the middle of a city, not out on an interstate highway. This is a building capable of wiping out in a single gesture 50 years of wretched stadium design, and of restoring the joyous possibility that a ball park might actually enhance the experience of watching the game of baseball.


Mark Cohen, GQ: Every baseball fan should kneel down this moment and thank God for Baltimore.

There, people in that American League East city have determined to build a new home for their Orioles, patterned after the quirky, intimate old ballparks.

... And it will have a signature architectural element looming beyond its right-field fence -- an eight-story, several-blocks-long refurbished brick warehouse -- that will make Ebbets' departed wall look like a curbstone.

... They've thought of everything. Shoe-horned into a "genuine old-fashioned ballpark" will be such modern bells and whistles as seventy-two skyboxes; deluxe Prescription Athletic Turf grass; extra-wide seats, Diamond Vision; and a black-and-white electronic matrix board.

Of course all this is costing dearly....

But at this point it all seems worth it.


Ray Parrillo, Philadelphia Inquirer: Only in baseball, more awash in nostalgia than ever, will people pay to see a ballpark rather than the competition on the field....

As the construction workers hustle toward the ... target date, it's becoming apparent the place will be something any Orioles team, good or bad, will be proud to call home....

The old-style ballpark -- don't call it a stadium, please -- will appease the game's purists, who have been numbed by those no-personality, sterile-looking concrete doughnuts, such as Veterans Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, Busch Stadium ....

This park, with its brick facade and arched portals, does not impose on its neighborhood surroundings. Rather, it blends with it....

Roger Angell, The New Yorker: "No dome here, no beetling cyclotron over our heads. This is a pavilion -- a park right here in the city. . . . This is a fan's park, I think. They've done it at last."

Benjamin Forgey, Washington Post: "This is a place for baseball, all right. . . Every seat's a good one here. . . The selection of the site was itself a brilliant planning stroke of the kind that has eluded many cities but has helped downtown Baltimore revitalize itself for 30 years."


Jerry Adler, Newsweek: Baseball's future is . . . in its past, as is seen most clearly in the plans for the new home of the Baltimore Orioles. . . . Its walls will be the red of real brick, its turf the inimitable green of chlorophyll, its only dome the firmament under which Brooks Robinson once showed the angels how to play third base.