Atlantic Cities
Photos

Is the Retro Ballpark Movement Officially Over?

Is the Retro Ballpark Movement Officially Over?
Wikimedia Commons

Next Friday, the Baltimore Orioles will start their season at home exactly 20 years to the day Oriole Park at Camden Yards first opened.

With a 19th century warehouse for a backdrop, a pedestrian walkway that respects the pre-existing street grid, and exposed, dark green painted steel beams, Camden Yards instantly became the model for the perfect urban ballpark.

The success of it gave its architects, HOK Sport (now known as Populous) a steady stream of stadium work for years to come. Camden Yards was the central influence of nearly every new and renovated baseball stadium that followed.

The retro style quickly split into two schools; one, like Camden Yards, that strictly embraced classical design elements and the other that used more progressive forms (i.e. curtain walls, retractable roofs) while still implementing postmodern idiosyncrasies. 

The historical references and unique site configuration that makes Camden Yards successful was eventually re-imagined in other cities through forcibly quirky stadiums surrounded by seas of parking. The best example of that, and what fittingly could be the last retro-classic ballpark, would be Citi Field. Just months after its opening in 2009, Mark Lamister from Metropolis Magazine had this to say:

“It’s just so contrived,” says Jay Jaffe, a writer for Baseball Prospectus. “It drives me crazy.” The dimensions of the classic ballparks on which the Populous stadiums are modeled (such as Ebbets Field) were the product of their constrained urban lots. But Citi Field was built in the middle of a parking lot. And therein lies the strange paradox of the Populous stadiums: though they are painstakingly manufactured to appear idiosyncratic, the willfulness of their design is inescapable; and now that there are nearly 20 of them around the league, their heterogeneity has come to seem altogether homogenous. 

The more modern half of the movement, meanwhile, has pushed along to an almost unrecognizable point. Since the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati opened in 2003 with its contemporary, glass-wrapped facade, newer stadiums are more willing to embrace less familiar forms.

Baseball's architectural rebels in Miami, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C. (left to right). Images courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Nationals Park built off of Cincinnati's design direction 5 years later and in 2010, Target Field followed suit in Minneapolis. Similar to Cincinnati and D.C, the classical interior still feels familiar but its complex and dramatic exterior gives it arguably the edgiest appearance of any MLB stadium.

The anti-Camden trend takes its next step when Marlins Park officially debuts next Wednesday. Similar in form to the spaceship and entertainment palace known as Cowboys Stadium, Miami's new facility moves baseball stadium design even further from the nostalgia-drenched movement.

The retro craze appears to be over but that does not tarnish the significance of the movement. We assembled a slideshow to look back on all the MLB stadiums to debut since Baltimore's, most of which are strongly influenced by the Camden Yards school of design:

Top image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

Join the Discussion