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D.C. Seeks 'Signature' Ballpark

Stadium May Depart From Orioles Model as Innovation Encouraged

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 6, 2005; Page C01

In their successful pitch for a Major League Baseball team, District leaders presented a sketch of a ballpark along the Anacostia River that gives spectators a view of one of the city's most powerful symbols: the U.S. Capitol.

The rendering, which was by no means final, was intended to stir emotions, to offer a glimpse of the unusual design possibilities for the future home of the Washington Nationals. When the stadium is completed in 2008, officials say, it could become a city gateway that reinvigorates a once-neglected riverfront.


D.C. officials say that this rendering of a new stadium was drawn only to inspire unusual design possibilities and that the design has not been finalized."We do not want to see just another baseball stadium," says Allen Y. Lew, chief executive of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. (360 Architecture)



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But don't expect a throwback stadium such as Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which started a ballpark building boom in 1992, with its red-brick facade, ornate ironwork and historic warehouse.

"We do not want to see just another baseball stadium," said Allen Y. Lew, chief executive of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. "We want signature architecture. We're not looking to just mimic other cities."

The sports commission, along with the staff of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), will oversee ballpark design and construction. The commission plans to select a chief architect this month.

At least 75 representatives for 35 firms, including the half-dozen leading sports architecture companies, have obtained the city's 28-page packet of instructions. The city has advised potential designers to consider recently built ballparks but to "create architecture for Washington that is distinctive and of this time."

What that means, exactly, is open to interpretation.

Toni L. Griffin, a city deputy planning director, noted that the stadium's waterfront site near the Navy Yard and South Capitol Street is "not an area surrounded by a lot of brick or stone or marble. So it's an opportunity to really set a design vocabulary for this district on the waterfront."

The stadium project, one of several ballparks on the drawing board in major cities, might become part of a movement that favors innovative designs. Last year, the San Diego Padres unveiled Petco Park, which featured a sandstone facade and palm-tree-lined gardens. A proposed new ballpark in Miami for the Florida Marlins will not use bricks, but rather glass and steel, said an architect who designed it.

A majority of the 14 baseball-only stadiums constructed in the past 13 years mimic the traditional look ushered in by Oriole Park, which was viewed as an escape from bloated, multipurpose bowls -- such as Washington's Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, which once was shared by the Redskins and baseball's Senators. Recently, there has been a backlash against the so-called "retro ballparks, " which some architecture critics have called a cliche.

Peter Eisenman, a New York-based architect who used a desert cactus as inspiration for the design of the new stadium for the Arizona Cardinals football team, said that European sports facilities are more daring and modern. He suggested that the District hold a design competition, instead of a traditional bidding process, to foster creativity.

The Williams administration went through an acrimonious debate with the D.C. Council to win approval for a publicly funded stadium. A major challenge for the city and the new architect will be to live within the city's estimated $279 million stadium construction budget.

Officials want to keep the height of the structure relatively low so it won't overpower residential neighborhoods a few blocks away. Major League Baseball's requirements include 41,000 seats, 2,000 club seats, 66 private suites, a restaurant and a picnic area.

Architects say the club seat and private suite requirements are not extraordinary and probably can be met with one concourse level, matching the thinking of Stephen M. Green, a special adviser to the mayor on baseball issues.


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