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August 17, 2004

Making Stadiums Look Pretty From The Outside

FROM THE ACCUMULATED KNOWLEDGE OF STADIUM DESIGNERS come dizzying arrays of well-thought out, visually-attractive and environmentally sound landscaping techniques.

As varied as the climates, soils and native plants in all regions of the country, so too are the extensive variation of landscape designs for each and every stadium. Cookie cutter approaches simply do not work in landscape design. Every job is a custom job.

However, beauty is not always in the eyes of the beholder. Sometimes a showy or unconventional combination of landscaping features may not be optimally appealing to stadium guests, but the installation and maintenance costs can often win the day.

For example, Gillette Stadium, the new home of the NFL New England Patriots in Foxboro, Mass., features an 80-foot-tall lighthouse, a steel footbridge, stacked boulders resembling an ocean break wall (honoring the region’s maritime heritage), plus native sea grasses, birch trees and blueberry bushes.

Boston Globe columnist Robert Campbell had a field day in describing his first impressions of the stadium, “Gillette is basically a huge, powerful pile of steel and concrete that happens to be wearing a small tutu of coastal New England motifs. If any remnant of the natural world still existed on this site, it’s now gone, replaced mostly by vast asphalt parking lots. In compensation, the architect offers us, with his rocks and grasses, a kind of stage-set version of nature. It’s pure cosmetics.”

It appears that Mr. Campbell did not like Gillette’s landscaping.

But what kind of landscaping can one reasonably expect at the typical 1000 acre behemoth that is the typical outside perimeter of an NFL or MLB stadium?

The best, the brightest and the most visionary stadium designers are those who pay plenty of attention to the totality of their designs, including the outside vehicular and pedestrian approaches.

And the biggest of the bunch, the venerated HOK Sport+Venue+Event of Kansas City, Missouri, clearly pays attention to all details, including landscape design. Says landscape architect Brian Smith, an HOK senior associate, “Sports facilities are big and imposing in their scale, and require a well-thought-out landscape design to help bring these hulking, muscular things back down to a human scale. You want to think about including some mature ornamental or canopy shade trees that look like they’ve been there awhile.”

Maintenance considerations top the priority list during the planning stages. The installation of impressive but difficult to maintain plant and mineral life can severely cramp an owner’s commitment of manpower and resources. Exotic tropical plants might catch attention at non Sunbelt stadiums, but it’s very costly to replace them each year.

Landscape architects agree that the impact of site design should begin while visitors are still in their cars. “You need to provide a site context that really has a sense of entrance about it. We certainly would hate to see a facility built with just a parking lot and no clear visual announcement that begins to build excitement,” says landscape architect Rich Gardner, a principal at RDG Sports in Des Moines, Iowa.

Gardner. Great name, huh?

Landscaping installation and maintenance expenditures are typically insufficient. Some industry experts suggest that construction projects totaling up to $15 million should allocate 15 to 20 percent for site development, including plantings, pedestrian traffic areas and lighting. For project budgets exceeding $15 million, the landscape percentage begins to drop into the 10 to 15 percent range.

The saying having to do with judging a book by its cover applies to stadium landscaping as well.

(this 565 word excerpt was distilled from a 2774 word article from the August 2004 issue of Athletic Business)