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Populous is a global architectural and design practice specializing in sports facilities, arenas and convention centers, as well as the planning and design of major special events.
Populous was created through a management buyout in January 2009, becoming independently owned and operated. It is reported to be one of the largest architecture firms in the world. Populous formerly operated as HOK Sport Venue Event, which was part of the HOK Group.
In 1983, HOK under Jerry Sincoff created a sports group (initially called the Sports Facilities Group and later changed to HOK Sport Venue Event). The firm initially consisted of eight architects in Kansas City, and grew to employ 185 people by 1996.
On several projects, HOK Sport had teamed with international design practice LOBB Partnership, which maintained offices in London, England, and Brisbane, Australia. On HOK Sport's 15th anniversary in November 1998, the firm merged with LOBB. The new practice retained headquarters in all three cities.
The Kansas City, Missouri, office was first based in the city's Garment District in the Lucas Place office building. In 2005, it moved into its headquarters at 300 Wyandotte in the River Market neighborhood in a new building it designed, on land developed as an urban renewal project through tax incentives from the city's Planned Industrial Expansion Authority. It was the first major company to relocate to the neighborhood in several decades. In March 2009, HOK Sport Venue Event changed its name to Populous after a managers' buyout by HOK Group.
In October 2015, Populous relocated to its new Americas headquarters at the newly renovated Board of Trade building at 4800 Main street near the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City.
The company is one of several Kansas City-based sports design firms that trace their roots to Kivett and Myers which designed the Truman Sports Complex which was one of the first modern large single purpose sports stadiums (previously, stadiums were designed for multipurpose use). Other firms with sports design presence in Kansas City that trace their roots to Kivett include Ellerbe Becket Inc. and HNTB Corp.. 360 Architecture is also based in Kansas City.
"Retro" era of baseball parks
The red brick facade of Camden Yards was designed by Populous to blend into the surrounding neighborhood of downtown Baltimore, especially the nearby B&O Warehouse.
In addition to moving away from the concrete exteriors of the "cookie-cutter" multi-purpose stadiums that preceded the new parks, Populous incorporated other innovative touches: natural grass playing surfaces (instead of artificial turf), asymmetrical field dimensions, various park-specific idiosyncrasies (like Tal's Hill in Houston), and less foul territory that would keep fans farther from the diamond. And because the stadiums were designed for baseball instead of several sports, the sightlines were "uniformly excellent."
Camden Yards was hugely popular with baseball fans, and its success convinced many cities to invest public funds in their own new ballparks to help revitalize struggling urban neighborhoods. From 1992 to 2012, HOK Sport/Populous were the lead architects on 14 Major League Baseball stadiums and helped renovate four existing stadiums.
Populous's designs across Major League Baseball have become so prevalent that some critics have asserted that the distinctiveness that was originally found in early "retro" ballparks is impossible to maintain: "There are nearly 20 [new ballparks] around the league, [so] their heterogeneity has come to seem altogether homogenous." Whereas "classic" ballparks like Fenway Park were given strange dimensions simply because of the limitations provided by the plots of land on which the parks were built, new stadiums do not feature such restrictions. One sportswriter said the attempt to emulate the old parks in this way is "contrived."
In addition, a number of commentators have criticized what they see as a tendency to cater new ballparks toward wealthier ticket buyers, such as with expanded use of luxury suites instead of cheaper, conventional seating. Several writers have noted that upper deck seating at new ballparks may actually be farther away from the field than in the older parks, partly as a result of these new upper decks being pushed higher by rows of luxury suites.
One writer in The New Yorker said it is "not quite right to credit or blame Populous" for trends in their new stadiums--as it is ultimately team owners that plan what they want in future stadiums--but they "certainly enabled" such changes.
In early 2018 Populous, together with Madison Square Garden Company, announced plans to construct two grandiose entertainment arenas: Sphere Las Vegas and Sphere London. According to plans, both vast venues will be futuristically designed and equipped with advanced acoustic and visual technologies. While some, including Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, support the development of the London Venue, others are concerned about the feasibility of the plans. Chris Kyriakakis, audio signal processing professor at the Los Angeles USC Viterbi School of Engineering, foresees serious acoustic problems due to the venue's spherical shape. Additional criticism has come from the property industry where claims have been made that the dedicated plot could accommodate up to 1,400 new homes in an area in which there is a shortage of affordable housing.
Former headquarters of Populous, in Kansas City, Missouri