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Thursday, March 27, Noon ET

Designing Nationals Park

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Joe Spear and Jim Chibnall
Architects, HOK Sport
Thursday, March 27, 2008; 12:00 PM

Architects Joe Spear and Jim Chibnall of HOK Sport will be online Thursday, March 27 at noon ET to discuss their design for Nationals Park, their goals for the stadium and the challenges to making those plans a reality.

A transcript follows.

Designing the stadium was a joint venture between HOK and Devrouax-Purnell Architects. Spear is the principal in charge of HOK, and Chibnall the senior project designer. The firm has worked on stadiums in Denver, Detroit, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, San Diego as well as Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

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North Potomac, Md.: Hi! Great job with the stadium so far. Did you all ever consider building a stadium with the Anacostia River located just beyond the outfield seats? PNC Park and AT&T Park have similar ballparks and fans in SF like to swim/ride boats in McCovey Cove during games. If there was consideration to build a similar ballpark in DC, then why did it not happen?

Jim Chibnall: After studying the site extensively, we considered it, but we decided to site the ballpark to the North so that fans could have a view toward the monuments. No other ballpark can have that kind of a view.

Also, we knew 70 percent of the crowd would be coming in from the north; to present the open bowl would allow them to begin their ballpark experience at M and Half streets, far before entering the ballpark gates.

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New York, New York: I think you guys did a wondeful job. Nationals Park is very magestic. But what made you go with the design you have instead of a more retro park like Camden Yards?

Jim Chibnall: This was a chance to do something fresh because we didn't have a lot of context immediately adjacent to the ballpark site. The site really dictated the design - and because the site is not situated amidst a brick warehouse district like Camden Yards or Coors Field are, what's been thought of as typical ballpark architecture in some other cities just didn't fit for DC.

Additionally, our client group had the expectation of a more modern experience.

The ballpark responds to the monumental city and the national city.

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Rockville, Md..: Hi guys,

Thanks for taking my question. I am curious as to what were your inspirations for the design of this ballpark? This trend towards more scenic parks seems to have originated with Camden Yards up in Baltimore. What do you all consider to be the best parks architecturally speaking?

Jim Chibnall: We responded to the two aspects of DC; the Monumental City as well as the local city. The facade on South Capitol is designed to have a monumental presence while the facades along Potomac and First Streets are more in keeping with the scale of the local city. They were designed to related more to baseball geometry rather than monumental geometry with more diverse, transparent treatments. Yet the entire ballpark is treated the same from a material and color palette.

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Washington, D.C.: Baseball is about continuity with the past. What features of previous ballparks in D.C. (RFK and Griffith Stadiums) did you incorporate into your design?

Jim Chibnall: You'll see a notch in left center field as homage to Griffith Stadium. The angled geometry in the lower bowl versus the curvilinear geometry of the upper bowl is reflective of both Griffith Stadium and RFK, respectively.

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Section 112:

What is your favorite current park that you did not design?

What do wish you had done differently with Nationals Park? What do you think fans will NOT like about NP?

Jim Chibnall: I'm fond of Wrigley Field because of its urban setting. It's the way baseball was meant to be experienced.

We're honestly very proud of our work in DC, and we think players, fans and visitors to the Capitol City will really enjoy it.

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Waldorf, Md.: Was your firm frustrated with the short timeline to design and build Nationals Park? Is there anything that you would have liked to do in the stadium but couldn't because of the build schedule?

Jim Chibnall and Joe Spear: Actually, the amount of design time we had on this project was comparable to others. You're right in that construction time was shorter. On every project, we really like to finetune the ballpark to the personality of the ownership; before the Lerners became involved, we had to rely on our 25 years of ballpark design experience. Although the Lerners weren't able to be involved early in the process, they've added many design elements that fans will really enjoy, such as the cherry blossoms, the bigger scoreboard, the outfield picnic area, etc.

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Section 112: How many MLB parks have each of you seen games in?

Jim Chibnall and Joe Spear: Joe: I've designed 10 new ballparks so I've seen games in those; beyond that, I think I've seen a game in 28 of the 30 ballparks.

Jim: I grew up in St. Louis as a huge Cardinals fan, so that influenced a lot of my ballpark experience. Since then, I've seen probably 15 ballparks of the 30 in use right now.

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Cleveland: Is it a relief to be recognized for a wonderful contemporary design rather than the "retro" label people want to put on your work? I've always thought Jacobs Field was a wonderul piece of contemporary architecture but everyone refers to it as "retro."

Jim Chibnall and Joe Spear: It wasn't so much of a relief as it was an opportunity to show how we like to incorporate a client's wishes with the site and the community into what we design. Nationals Park really dictated a modern approach and we were glad to be able to explore some ideas much further beyond what we've done on some past projects.

We both worked on the Jake together - that project, a lot like DC, had a lot of great things working for it. It was a contemporary container that held an artifact of baseball, as you will find when you will go into the various clubs and concourses. There's always a connection to the tradition of baseball. Just like what we have here in DC.

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Atlanta: Having gotten to crawl from top to bottom of the new stadium, I can say you did a fabulous job.

I know my favorite feature (the outfield porch of seats--love 'em!) but what is yours?

Jim Chibnall and Joe Spear: The transparency of the building and the duality of the facade architecture. It's a classical organization of base, body, head.

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Pittsburgh: What role did you have in planning for the surrounding neighborhood's growth with the new park and how do you see the area changing because of the money brought in by the fans?

Jim Chibnall and Joe Spear: We really weren't involved in planning for the neighborhood, but Mayor Williams' office did a great job of selecting the site because it is a quick way to redevelop an entire quadrant of the city. It never would have happened without them. And because they were able to package it as one developable parcel, they were able to speed the process up and get the Nationals a new ballpark in near-record time.

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Manhasset NY: What is your least favorite park of all time?

Mine would be the old Candlestick Park.

Jim Chibnall and Joe Spear: A lot of the older ballparks were designed as multipurpose stadiums which really weren't good for baseball OR football. It was a big, failed experiment, if you will. The logic was that it was cheaper to build one multipurpose facility, but in the long run it became much more expensive for cities because these facilities only lasted one lease term before they were replaced with purpose-built, baseball-only ballparks. Fans don't fall in love with a multipurpose concrete donut like they do a purpose-built ballpark such as DC's.

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NatsNut: Although I haven't seen the park yet, I'm already floored by your work. Thank you, thank you.

I remember reading something about a built-in quirk in the outfield as a tribute to the old stadium. Can you elaborate?

Jim Chibnall and Joe Spear: As we said before, you'll see a porch in the left centerfield wall. At Griffith Stadium, they had to build the outfield wall around a private property, including a tree. Quirks like these make the game of baseball exciting and engaging. We like designing ballparks because it's the only sport where you can manipulate the dimensions of the playing field, and that allows us to really tailor a ballpark to an urban setting much more so than a fixed-field sport like football.

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Rockville, Md.: How much has new technology contributed to the economics of a new stadium? Can it be "green?"

Jim Chibnall and Joe Spear: We're really close to proving that you can design a ballpark that's sustainable - we hope to learn very soon that the ballpark will become LEED Certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. While we've been incorporating green design elements into our projects for many years, we've gone above and beyond what's been done in the past to design a ballpark that is respectful of its environment and will stand the test of time. We were able to get this accomplished because everyone - in particular the DCSEC and our contractors, Clark/Hunt/Smoot - were on board with the concept from the beginning.

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Jim Chibnall and Joe Spear: Thanks for your questions. We hope you enjoy the ballpark!

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