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Feature Article - October 2002

Field Guides

From brand-new or converted complexes to parent-proof fields, a look at the latest in sports field design

By Mitch Martin


PHOTOS COURTESY AND COPYRIGHT OF THORNEY LEIBERMAN
Several views of the newly opened, 212-acre
Aurora Sports Park in Aurora, Colo.

If sports architecture is geometry, then outdoor sports field design is plane geometry. At least at first blush.

On the surface, literally, sports field design seems to develop in a decidedly incremental fashion.

However, with the increasing popularity of soccer and the need to find fresh revenue streams, new sports complexes continue to pop up around the country.

Over the last year, several new projects have illustrated the creative possibilities in sports field design. Budgetary concerns, high demand for field space and environmental concerns appear to be the biggest problems driving this creativity.

Big, beautiful and smart
PHOTOS COURTESY AND COPYRIGHT OF THORNEY LEIBERMAN

On Aug. 24, the City of Aurora, Colo., opened what its consultants believe is the largest sports complex of its kind in the Rockies region of the United States.

The Aurora Sports Park is a 212-acre sports field facility designed primarily for soccer, softball and baseball, though also with multipurpose capabilities. It is, in many ways, a great deal more than just a large conglomeration of fields.

"We didn't want this to be your standard sports park," says Tom Barrett, manager of parks for the City of Aurora. "It's a regional facility that at this point is in the middle of nowhere, so if you want to make it a destination you really have to make it special."

City residents passed a bond referendum in 1998 that financed most of the $20 million project. Much of the land, located in the grassy plains south of the new Denver Airport, was a junkyard.

Luckily for the city, it was a rather promising junkyard, aesthetically. The site was in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains, making for a picture postcard setting. And the junkyard owners left 15 grand cottonwood trees on site. Running through the edge of the property was a waterway, Sand Creek.

Early on, project manager Graham Smith says the cottonwoods and the creek became design guideposts for making a unique complex amenable both to large sports tournaments and passive-use recreation.

In an age when most park district officials are grappling for every square inch of useable soccer field they can get their hands on, looks are not often a big part of the equation.

PHOTOS COURTESY AND COPYRIGHT OF THORNEY LEIBERMAN

But Aurora officials and a design team with 25-plus members believed a standout facility would bring tangible returns.

"We never generated hard numbers to sell investing on special design elements, but we did say tournaments are a competitive enterprise, and you should do something unique to stand out," says Smith, of the Denver-based Wenk Associates.

The Aurora project is on a high plateau in an area of great open space. Designers were concerned that the 23 fields, about 140 acres, would turn openness into emptiness.

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