Originally published in STIR®
The subtle shades of San Diego's new ballpark reflect Southern California's landscape and lifestyle.

A feeling, a mood, a sense of history … a dramatic work of art. Architects and designers take their inspiration from many sources when dreaming and conceiving the lines, shapes and colors of a project. But how often does the inspiration come from the personality, the vibe and the palette of a city itself?

Welcome to San Diego's Petco Park, the new home of baseball's San Diego Padres. While Petco Park is part of the ongoing push by major-league sports for newer, better, higher-revenue-producing venues for their teams, it is not part of the decade-long wave of retro ballparks and throwback-looking stadiums.

Open and airy, with "gardens" and "canyons" open to views of city, sea and sky, Petco Park is a reflection of the laid-back Southern California lifestyle and the San Diego landscape.

"It's a metaphor for the city. People live on hills or the cliffs or by the ocean," says Mike Wekesser, a senior designer with HOK Sport, the Kansas City, Mo. based executive architect of the $450 million project.

And the choice and use of color – subtle shades of white, beige, gray – were critical to making the metaphor ring true.

Natural Hues

"We wanted to use natural colors that derive from the area – the stone, the subtlety," says Antoine Predock, the New Mexico-based design architect. "The whole environment is not really monochromatic, but it is subtle."

Predock, who is also a painter, says he embraces color. "But it's important to do it in ways that are not 'in your face,' that are retreating and not advancing." Especially for this project, he adds.

Muted hues simply fit this ballpark, this town, better, says Kris Swords, a senior interior designer for HOK. "On buildings this big, color is very powerful because you cover huge expanses with this palette. We used a very West Coast palette – organic, earthy and natural."

The project had a 60-color palette, although many of those colors were subtle variations on soft neutrals. And that meant getting just the right color was critical, Swords says, which is why the designers turned to Sherwin-Williams paints.

"Paint can be a challenge to get right," she says. "You have to understand how it goes on a wall, how it reacts to light. This is a very sophisticated palette, and we are dealing with a very sophisticated city."

The first impression of Petco Park is that this truly is an outdoor ballpark. Unlike other stadiums around the country, the bowl of the park – the seats surrounding the playing field – isn't in the middle of a big building or behind an imposing facade. Many of the team offices, as well as concession stands and other stadium ancillaries, are separate from the bowl, connected by walkways and sky bridges. This has created open "canyons" that let light and views into the ballpark from all around.

Make no mistake: This is an urban ballpark. Bordering San Diego's famous Gas Lamp District, the stadium was built to incorporate a historic structure, the Western Metal Supply building. Fans face the downtown skyline.

But, just as San Diego's identity is shaped by its surroundings of desert, mountains and ocean, so is Petco Park's. The structural steel is painted crisp white. Surrounding garden buildings are made of beige stone. A seven-acre center field picnic area doubles as a city park when games are not being played. Fans can sit and stroll on grass-covered, amphitheater-style terraces. Seating areas are divided into distinct "neighborhoods."

Predock's goal, he says, was to capture the essence of San Diego, while avoiding "a too-easy, stylistic take on San Diego. We were trying to make it San Diegan without falling back to the Mission style. We wanted it to reflect the way people live there, having a ballpark that orients them to things other than the game – toward the water, the harbor, downtown."

Bolder, but Still Organic

Inside the ballpark's clubs, suites and restaurants, the colors were a bit bolder, including natural woods, polished metals, blues and greens. But the idea was the same: natural, earthy and organic, Swords says.

Sherwin-Williams paints were used throughout the project. Durability was a key factor in the selection of coatings, according to Terry Rusnak Sr., co-owner of RBE, the painting contractor. "You really have to paint this right," he says. "The last thing in the world we wanted was to have one of the announcers go down to get a hot dog and see paint peeling after six months."

San Diegans seem to be happy with the results. Wekesser says Petco Park has won fans and spurred other development in the area.