If They Build It: 9 Other Sports Facilities by the Architects of Camden Yards

The Orioles celebrate a win at Oriole Park.
The Orioles celebrate a win at Oriole Park.
Mitchell Layton, Getty Images

In 1983, Chris Carver, Ron Labinski, Joe Spear, and Dennis Wellner founded the first architecture firm dedicated exclusively to the design of sports facilities. HOK Sports Venue Event operated under the St. Louis-based HOK Group, an established leader in the field that was launched in 1955 by Washington University in St. Louis School of Architecture graduates George Hellmuth, Gyo Obata, and George Kassabaum.

After 25 years as an HOK subsidiary, HOK Sports Venue Event principals, including Spear, exchanged their HOK stock for ownership of HOK SVE and rebranded their independently owned, 500-person practice with the name Populous. While its title has changed, the firm formerly referred to as HOK Sport remains synonymous with excellence in sports architecture. It has designed nearly 1,000 projects and events since its inception and has played a role in the creation of some of the world's premier sports facilities. Here's a closer look at 10 of them, including the baseball stadium that launched many more.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

In the firm's early years, Populous architects created Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium and the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis. They also renovated more than a dozen baseball stadiums, with most of those projects involving the addition of luxury boxes. The firm's first original major league baseball stadium, new Comiskey Park in Chicago, opened in 1991, but it was the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in downtown Baltimore one year later that established a trend in ballpark design. The stadium, with its asymmetrical playing field, steel trusses, brick facade, and iconic B&O Warehouse, was a throwback and a gem. "Like the Green Monster at Fenway or the ivy-colored walls at Wrigley, the wall of the warehouse will become instantly recognizable as part of the Baltimore stadium," said Spear, the principal design architect of the ballpark. Camden Yards became the model upon which future ballparks were designed and measured. The firm has since played a role in the development of AT&T Park, Busch Stadium, Citi Field, Great American Ballpark, Nationals Park, PETCO Park, PNC Park, and Yankee Stadium.

Dubai Autodrome

dubai.jpgBaseball stadiums aren't the only facilities on Populous' resume. The Dubai Autodrome, the Middle East's first fully integrated motorsports facility, features one of the most challenging tracks in the world. The venue was officially inaugurated on April 1, 2004. One thousand VIPs, including UAE dignitaries and motorsports celebrities, attended the black-tie ceremony, which was capped with a fireworks and laser show. The venue's 5.39 km track hosts international events and is home to the Racing Academy, which is dedicated to cultivating racing talent in UAE. For a fee, amateurs may take a spin around the track in one of a number of different racecars. According to Populous, the marketing building it created in the adjacent business park was "designed to create a feeling of motion and balance with the surrounding track and infrastructure. With almost no vertical line on the building, the structure defines the DNA of all buildings on the site."

Wembley Stadium

wembley.jpgThe defining feature of London's new Wembley Stadium, which opened in 2007 and is used primarily for soccer, is the 440-foot arch that rises above the venue's roof. In addition to the aesthetic value that the arch adds to the stadium's design, it also functions to support the stadium's enormous steel roof, eliminating the need for pillars and improving the sightlines from the 90,000 seats inside. When closed, the roof's retractable panels cover every seat in the stadium, but not the entire pitch. The stadium's design, which was a joint effort of Populous and Foster & Partners, bears a striking resemblance to a 1941 sketch by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, but Niemeyer said that any similarities between his design for a national stadium in Rio de Janeiro, which was never built, and Wembley were pure coincidence. The stadium, which cost nearly $2 billion to build, opened 4 years behind schedule and 8 years after the old Wembley Stadium, which Pele dubbed "the church of football," was closed.

Taipei Arena

taipei.jpgTaipei Arena opened on Dec. 12, 2005, on the site of the former Taipei municipal baseball stadium and was the first major entertainment building to be built in Taipei in more than 20 years. While the multi-purpose building was designed primarily for sports "“ its natatorium, 20,000-seat arena, Olympic-size ice rink, and tennis center can accommodate a variety of athletic events "“ its high-quality acoustics have made it a popular venue for musical acts as well. According to Populous, the basement of the arena is used to house two gas turbine power generators, which could be used in the event of an emergency. The arena was used for the inauguration of President Ma-Ying Jeou in 2008.

Oval Lingotto

ice.jpg

The speed skating venue was the last major construction project of the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics. Populous collaborated with Studio Zoppini on the design, which received a 2007 Gold Award from the International Association for Sports and Leisure Facilities (IAKS) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). While the building was designed to facilitate fast times, no records were set in Turin. That was in part due to the quality of the ice, which was installed under a tight deadline and can take years to perfect. Since the Olympics, the 6,600-seat venue has hosted the 2006 World Fencing Championships and the 2009 European Indoor Championships in Athletics, as well as numerous fairs and exhibitions.

Nanjing Sports Park

china.jpgAt a cost of $287 million, the Nanjing Sports Park was built in China's Jiangsu province for the China National Games in 2005 and served as a showcase for the Chinese government leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The park includes a 60,000-seat stadium, an 11,000-seat arena, a natatorium that resembles a partially submerged cylinder, a 17-court tennis center, a media center, and outdoor facilities for baseball, softball, hockey, and basketball. According to Populous, "the primary concept of the sports park was to create a "˜people's palace', a multifunctional environment, a combination of world standard sporting facilities with the main stadium as the centerpiece within parkland."

Ascot Racecourse

ascot.jpgEngland's most famous racecourse was founded in 1711 by Queen Anne and closed for 20 months of redevelopment beginning in September 2004. When it reopened in time for the Royal Meeting in June 2006, the venue featured a new grandstand with a 400-yard-long, multi-tiered galleria, 40 internal bridges, and 270 private boxes. The design was driven by Populous' idea that Ascot was more than a place to watch horseracing. "Horseracing attracts a very mobile crowd," designer Rod Sheard told reporters. "The race itself lasts only a couple of minutes, but this is a place for promenading, to see and be seen." Unfortunately, the view from parts of the ground level of the grandstand for those who were there to see the races was obstructed. While this initially drew harsh criticism, Sheard and his colleagues rectified the problem one year later by installing terracing units to improve sightlines.

Wimbledon Centre Court

wimbledon.jpgFor the past three years, Populous has been busy renovating the facilities for the Wimbledon Championships. The firm has increased the seating capacity at Centre Court from 13,800 to 15,000, widening each seat in the process. The hydraulically operated retractable roof, made of steel trusses that support translucent fabric, will be operational when the 2009 championships begin next week. Sheard, who refers to the roof as "the umbrella," came up with the idea for a folding fabric roof out of necessity; the Centre Court stadium is hemmed in and was never designed to support a roof, so there's no place to roll a non-folding roof when open.

University of Phoenix Stadium

phoenix.jpgPopulous teamed with architect Peter Eisenman to design University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals. The stadium, which opened in 2006 and hosted Super Bowl XLII in February 2008, was the first in North America to feature a retractable, natural grass playing surface. This innovative design enables non-football events to be held in the stadium while the grass field, which can be rolled outside, receives the sunlight it needs to grow. The 63,000-seat venue has a retractable roof covered with translucent fabric and was the only stadium in North America to make Business Week's list of world-class sports stadiums.

2012 Summer Olympics

london-olympics.jpgPopulous' work will be on prominent display at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The firm was chosen to lead the design effort for the facilities, including the main stadium. London Games organizers communicated their desire to create facilities that will continue to be used after the Olympics, leading Populous to propose a plan that represents a significant departure from the Bird's Nest built for the Beijing Games. "This is not a stadium that's going to be screaming from the rooftops that it's bigger and more spectacular," Sheard said at the unveiling of the design in 2007. "This is just a cleverer building. This is a cleverer solution." The plan for the main stadium calls for 55,000 temporary seats to be installed on top of 25,000 permanent seats housed in a sunken bowl. The steel structure that supports the temporary seats will be concealed by a porous, translucent fabric wrap, or mural, that will be adorned with flags, images of past Olympic champions, and sponsor logos. A cable-supported roof will cover two-thirds of the seats.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

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From Ear to Eternity: When Mike Tyson Bit Evander Holyfield

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

As the 16,000 spectators began filing out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, following a night of fights on June 28, 1997, MGM employee Mitch Libonati noticed something strange on the floor of the boxing ring. He later described it as being roughly the size of a fingernail, with the texture of a piece of hot dog or sausage.

It was no concession stand remnant. It was a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Wrapping the morsel of flesh in a latex glove, Libonati hurried backstage, where Holyfield was conferring with officials and doctors after his opponent, Mike Tyson, had been disqualified for biting him on the left ear. In all the commotion, Libonati wasn't allowed inside the room. But Michael Grant, one of Holyfield’s training partners, accepted the ear fragment on Holyfield’s behalf.

Libonati’s discovery was the climax to one of boxing’s most controversial and bizarre evenings, one in which "Iron" Mike Tyson—the most famous fighter of his era—meted out a savage reprimand for what he perceived was dirty fighting on the part of Holyfield. The ear-biting far exceeded the brutal underpinnings of boxing and added to Tyson's reputation as a frenzied combatant both in and out of the ring.

 

Mike Tyson’s collision with Evander Holyfield had started when the two were just teenagers. On the amateur circuit, they had sparred together—not quite knowing the heights each would achieve, but understanding the other would be a formidable obstacle if they were to ever meet as professionals.

Evander Holyfield (L) had success against Mike Tyson (R) early on.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Tyson was a prodigy, having won the heavyweight championship of the world in 1986 at the age of 19 and dominating the division up until an upset loss to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990. Holyfield was the lighter fighter at cruiserweight (190 pounds), moving up to the heavyweight division in 1988 and gaining respect for his trilogy with Riddick Bowe.

Long before that fateful night in 1997, Tyson's personal life had started to overshadow his accomplishments inside the ring: An allegedly abusive marriage to actress Robin Givens darkened his image in the media and ended in a very public divorce after just one year. In 1992, a rape conviction sidelined the fighter for more than three years while he served out his prison sentence.

When Tyson returned to the ring, he rattled off a string of wins against fighters not quite at his level, including Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno, and Bruce Seldon. Holyfield had stepped away from competition in 1994, but as Tyson knocked off inferior opponents, talk of a bout with Holyfield intensified. Finally, the two met in Las Vegas on November 9, 1996, with Tyson a 17-1 favorite over the semi-retired Holyfield.

Holyfield would prove his doubters wrong. Through 11 rounds of action, he outmaneuvered and outclassed Tyson by negating his opponent's power with movement and volume. Holyfield also landed headbutts that were declared unintentional, but to Tyson seemed deliberate. Before the fight could see a 12th round, Holyfield knocked Tyson down and earned a technical knockout victory.

 

While it was an undoubtedly disappointing moment for Tyson, an upset in boxing virtually guarantees a lucrative rematch deal. Both men agreed to meet a second time, with Holyfield earning $35 million and Tyson getting $30 million. Tyson’s camp, however, insisted that the referee from the first bout, Mitch Halpern, not be booked for the second, because Tyson felt he failed to call the illegal headbutts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission didn’t want to be seen capitulating to Tyson’s demands, but Halpern stepped aside voluntarily. So referee Mills Lane took his place.

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) first met as amateurs.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Before a huge crowd full of A-list celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and a then-record 1.99 million households that had purchased the event on pay-per-view, Tyson and Holyfield met for a second time at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 28, 1997. While Holyfield took the first round, Tyson appeared fit and adaptive, and came out blazing in round two. Then, just as Tyson had feared, Holyfield’s headbutt struck him again.

The clash of heads opened a cut over Tyson’s right eye, which threatened to obscure his vision as the fight went on. It also opened a reservoir of frustration in the fighter that would manifest in a spectacularly violent way.

Coming out for the third round, Tyson had forgotten his mouthpiece and had to go back and retrieve it—a foreshadowing of things to come. His aggression was working against Holyfield, but with 40 seconds left in the round, the two clinched up. Tyson moved his mouth so it was near Holyfield’s right ear. With his mouthpiece still in place, he clamped down on the ear, ripped the top off, and spat it along with his mouthguard onto the canvas.

Holyfield jumped up in the air in shock and pain. Referee Mills Lane was initially confused by what had happened until Holyfield’s trainers, Don Turner and Tommy Brooks, yelled out what Tyson had done. Lane called for a doctor then told Marc Ratner, the executive director of the athletic commission, that he was going to end the fight. Ratner asked if he was sure. Seeing Holyfield was bleeding from his ear but otherwise ready to fight, Lane waved the two men back into competition.

Incredibly, Tyson bit Holyfield a second time, this time on the left ear, before the round ended. This time, Lane was aware of what was happening and had seen enough. Before the start of the fourth round, he disqualified Tyson.

 

That was far from the end of it. Realizing he had lost the fight, Tyson grew incensed, shoving Holyfield from behind and pawing at the security guards who had stormed the ring in an attempt to restore order.

After the bout, Tyson didn’t appear to be overly contrite. He explained that he was frustrated at Holyfield headbutting him without being penalized, and said he had lost control.

An emotional Mike Tyson reacts to his disqualification loss to Evander Holyfield.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

“Listen,” Tyson said. “Holyfield is not the tough warrior everyone says he is. He got a nick on his ear and he quit.”

Tyson believed his retaliation was justified. “This is my career," he said. "I’ve got children to raise and this guy keeps butting me, trying to cut me and get me stopped on cuts. I’ve got to retaliate. What else could I do? He didn’t want to fight. I’m ready to fight right now. Regardless of what I did, he’s been butting me for two fights. I got one eye. He’s not impaired. He’s got ears. I’ve got to go home and my kids will be scared of me. Look at me, look at me, look at me!”

Two days later, Tyson issued a tempered apology in an effort to minimize the consequences, but it was too late. In addition to losing his boxing license in the state of Nevada, Tyson was fined 10 percent of his purse, or $3 million, which was thought to be the largest fine in sports at the time.

 

Tyson could never entirely shake the stigma of his actions. When a lucrative bout with Lennox Lewis was being planned in 2002, the fight ultimately ended up taking place in Memphis, Tennessee; Nevada refused to restore Tyson's license following a press conference brawl between the two men.

Tyson ultimately continued competing through 2005, when he lost his last bout to Kevin McBride. Holyfield retired in 2011. Earlier this year, the 54-year-old Tyson expressed a desire to return to the ring. The fighter once known as "The Baddest Man on the Planet" is scheduled to fight Roy Jones Jr. on November 28, 2020. Yet Holyfield, now 57 years old, remains a possible future opponent.

The two have occasionally interacted in public in interviews, with Tyson expressing remorse and Holyfield admitting he briefly thought about biting Tyson on his face right back. The pair even filmed a spot for Foot Locker in which Tyson “gave” Holyfield the missing piece of his ear.

In reality, Holyfield never did get his ear back. After Mitch Libonati handed it over to Michael Grant, the piece somehow fell out of the latex glove while being transported to the hospital.

Many fighters talk about leaving a little piece of themselves in the ring. It’s usually metaphorical. For Evander Holyfield, it was simply the truth.