Earl Santee talks about his Target Field architecture


Nearly two years ago in this space, when Target Field was little more than a skeleton of steel

and the onset of stone installation had just begun, stadium project manager Bruce Miller of lead design firm Populous joined City Pages to discuss the progress of the Twins new home.  On that summer day of yore, Populous was known as HOK Sport, Livan Hernandez led the club in wins, and the only ones donning helmets at the team's future confines were the Mortenson construction workers.

Today, a new era of Twins baseball begins and a new age for Minneapolis is born.  As Bob Dylan penned,

"Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown."

With Target Field ready to host its first Major League ballgame, we today welcome Mr. Earl Santee, principal architect of the ballpark.  If you're among the fortunate to take in some history this eve, take his learned words with you, as they'll undoubtedly heighten your own return to outdoor baseball.

City Pages:  You worked with the Twins for nearly a decade on this project.  When you first toured the eventual site of Target Field, what were your first design impressions?
Earl Santee:  My first thought was, "Holy cow!  How are we going to make this work?"  So I started to make a list of all the challenges and opportunities that were needed to make a great ballpark work on that site. As I was developing the list I got excited about what could happen on this site, and as the weeks went along I began to visualize what a ballpark could look like and the many great benefits it would have for this city and this team. I saw all the urban connections to the city and transit and skyways and how the ballpark could connect the city.


C.P.:  Target Field has been described as "The most urban ballpark in the Majors."  When the site was chosen, were there any ever detractors (even yourself, perhaps) that said, "Earl: do you really think you can fit a Major League ballpark on this 8-acre space?"
E.S.:  Over the years, I have developed criteria for site selection (Target Field was my 19th major site selection process) -- if the site doesn't meet any one of a dozen or so items on my list, it had a fatal flaw. Interestingly enough, in the past, the site size could have been a fatal flaw.  Somehow I just believed we could make it work. Working closely with Kobi Bradley in our office, we studied every possible solution to make the site bigger or to adapt the site to fit the needs of a major league ballpark. It wasn't easy.  In fact, there were many times either Kobi or I would say we couldn't do it and the other would challenge that notion and find a solution. And we had great local partners like Chuck Ballentine with Hennepin County who -- whenever we said we needn't move something or change something in the site -- he found a way to help us make it work. And we had a lot of people that trusted our opinions and believed in the project: the Twins, our partner design firms, MNDOT, civic groups at the city, state and federal level, etc. We all had one goal -- to make this the best ballpark Major League Baseball has seen.

Here's just a sample of what we had to deal with: a BNSF railroad line that had to be moved about 15 feet; a major interstate cutting underneath the site; two existing parking garages. All of this within just more than eight acres. We're talking perhaps the smallest site in modern pro ballpark design.

But all those challenges presented an opportunity for us to create a new parcel for downtown development. That eventually led to creating a framework for future development around the site. One of the things I remember saying early on is that we would have to create the ballpark to make the city. And what I meant by that is that Target Field was the bridge builder -- bridges that connect the ballpark to downtown and to the west side, and that's the only way we could make the site work. For instance, we created a bridge over I-394 and now you have Target Plaza -- an outdoor celebration that lets fans interact with baseball 365 days a year. It's that seamless connection between ballpark and city that is what has made this project a success.

C.P.:  What ultimately became the tallest hurdles in both designing and constructing the park into such a tight space?
E.S.:  This ballpark is an excellent example of purposeful design. There were no design whims here. Every choice we made had repercussions. It's as if we were playing with a balloon -- when you squeezed something one way, something else would pop out the other way. So you see a piece of the building cantilevering out over Target Plaza, or an entire section of the outfield with this playful wedge seating configuration which I think might become one of the more fun places to be in the ballpark. We were lucky to have some great engineers, a great contractor in Mortenson, and a baseball team who was willing to take some risks with us. Every one of us did all we could to make this work.

C.P.: Among your eight design principles for Target Field, it's readily conveyed that a name objective for you was to design a ballpark that is distinctly "Minnesotan."  Today, what feature or two delivers that most for you?

E.S.:  When you work on a project for that long you do get to experience the state.  We spent time looking at sites across the state over the years, and all that time allowed me to appreciate the great things about Minnesota. We spent a lot of time discovering what a Minnesotan ballpark could be: we toured a large part of the state, we talked to a lot of Minnesotans, we walked the streets of Minneapolis. What we found was this interesting dichotomy -- it was so cosmopolitan, yet very natural. And that was fun for us to think about those two opposing forces. So, from a designer's perspective, you see that in the design. You see the strong limestone base topped by sleek, modern, cantilevered glass. It creates this ballpark that is for you all -- the Minnesotans, the Twins fans -- to enjoy. And that's why we enjoy our jobs as designers, because we can create something unique for every community. Finally, how the ballpark met the sky was so important.  This really led to idea of a sculpted canopy that was unique yet created a great piece of art.

C.P.: Among the countless features of note within the playing field is the close proximity of the players to the fans, namely that home plate is less than 50 feet from the first row of seats.  As Target Field serves as a celebrated example of "design modernity," do you think said contiguity serves as a design trend for future ballparks?

E.S.:  That's a good example of how modern ballpark design has evolved.  It's about finding ways to create a unique experience for every fan, though, not just the fans who are lucky enough to sit directly behind home plate. In fact, one of my favorite spots at Target Field to watch a game will be at the top of the Budweiser party porch -- it's a great vantage point of the field, and it will be a vibrant area for fans. I also really like the seats in left field, 60 feet to the light rail and the most enclosed and captured view in baseball. I like to think of ballpark design in three-inning segments:  What can you do for three innings in the ballpark? Where can you walk, what can you do and see? For the purists, that means a fantastic view to the field. And Target Field has that -- that's modern/classic ballpark design. But Target Field also has some really lively areas for the fans who appreciate baseball and entertainment. And that's yet another layer of modern ballpark design.  

C.P.:  Staying on the field: The Twins dugout is on the first base side.  I count an 18-to-12 split for MLB parks, with the former number accounting for home teams occupying the first base dugout.  How and why was that determination made for Target Field?

E.S.:  That's an interesting observation. And the simple answer is that we had to do it because of the site. We had more room on first base side. That goes back to that notion of purposeful design I described earlier. Every choice we made on this ballpark was for a reason, including the home dugout on the first base side. In order to give the Twins all the programmatic space that's required for a modern major league baseball team, we just simply didn't have the space on the third base side to make everything fit.

C.P.:  Target Field would seem to represent a true evolution in the philosophy of ballpark design.  How has the approach to design changed over your 25-plus years with Populous, and what does Target Field say about the future of your trade?

E.S.:  You know, it's interesting; a few red bricks was all it took to start a path for us 25 years ago. For those who might just be on the periphery of our work, that's what they see. But to us, every ballpark has to become its own brand, and the brand of the team and of the community because of how each ballpark is integrated into its community, by what we can offer the fans, and by how the teams themselves embrace the ability to create a strong brand for the future of their team through the ballpark design itself. Our Populous team encouraged the Twins from day one to take a unique approach to design, and we appreciate their willingness to view this project differently from anything we've done before. I believe we've set a new bar in design --not just ballpark design -- but design in general, and how good design can truly impact an urban area.
C.P.:  Nearly two years ago, I asked this question of your Populous colleague, Mr. Bruce Miller: "Do you have to be a baseball fan to be good at this job?" In closure, what are your thoughts on that same inquiry?

E.S.:  I have spent 25 years studying, understanding and developing my love for the buildings of baseball.  My first ballpark was in Davenport, Iowa, 24 years ago and now I've seen dozens of Major League ballparks open. I wish I could say that anybody could design a ballpark, but I think it takes something special. It takes an understanding and an appreciation of why this game is so important to American culture to be truly successful at what we do. Does that mean we all follow all the stats? Not necessarily. But we enjoy the game enough to understand what's going to make it successful today, in a decade and another century from now.



Images courtesy of Populous