HKS-designed ‘crown jewel’ Hokkaido ballpark



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HKS designed Japan baseball stadium opens Image: HKS

The Japanese professional baseball team Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters opened their new 35,000-capacity Es Con Field Hokkaido (Japan) on March 30th with a game against their peer team – the Rakuten Golden Eagles.

‘HKS’ stated that the ballpark, designed by HKS, a global architecture and design firm, is the crown jewel of a luxury mixed-used development that sits on an 80-acre greenfield site in Kitahiroshima, Hokkaido, Japan.

The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters are a Japanese professional baseball team based in Kitahiroshima, Hokkaido. They compete in the Pacific League of Nippon Professional Baseball, playing the majority of their home games at the ES Con Field Hokkaido.

The Es Con Field Hokkaido is a baseball stadium located in Kitahiroshima, Hokkaido, Japan. The ballpark is owned by and operated by Nippon Ham (meats and meat products company), which has used it as the home field for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) since its opening in 2023. Designed by Obayashi Corporation and HKS Architects, the stadium has capacity for 35,000 people.

The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, often shortened as the Rakuten Eagles, are a baseball team based in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. It has played in Nippon Professional Baseball’s Pacific League since the team’s formation in November 2004. The team is owned by the Internet shopping company Rakuten.

The 30,508-capacity Rakuten Mobile Park Miyagi, officially the Miyagi Baseball Stadium, is a baseball stadium located in the Miyaginohara Sports Park in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. It serves as the home arena of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Tokyo (Japan)-based the Nippon Professional Baseball or NPB is the highest level of baseball in Japan. Locally, it is often called Puro Yakyū, meaning Professional Baseball. Outside of Japan, it is often just referred to as ‘Japanese baseball’.

Dallas (US)-based HKS is a global firm of architects, designers, advisors, and makers driven by curiosity and devoted to creating places that combine beauty with performance. Its 1,500 people in 26 offices are united by their shared culture and sense of purpose. HKS value honesty, diversity and inclusion and celebrate creative thinking across the firm. In partnership with each other, its clients and its partners, HKS craft powerful ideas and solutions. Together, the design firm create places that stand apart.

Mark A. Williams, Global Director of Venues, HKS, US, is a Member of Coliseum – Global Sports Venue Alliance.

Said Mike Rogers, Principal, HKS, “This is the first new ballpark to open in Japanese baseball in two decades and it will quickly establish a new bar for fan experiences and amenities. The materials we used and specific design details are representative of historic Sapporo architecture and a tribute to the community that loves this team. It is a homecoming for the franchise to once again be playing games in Hokkaido and we’re proud to have created such a beautiful venue for the Fighters’ return.”

The new stadium features a retractable roof like the Fighters’ Major League Baseball (MLB) counterpart in America, the Texas Rangers, whose 40,300-capacity Globe Life Field ballpark in Arlington, Texas, was also designed by HKS, and it has an asymmetrical outfield wall – only the second of its kind in Japanese pro baseball. The symbolic triangular façade resembles a typical Hokkaido gable roof shape, and the venue’s actual roof can hold and shed up to 14 feet of snow, a necessity because Hokkaido is one of the world’s snowiest locations.

The stadium is oriented to get the most morning sun and optimize growing conditions for its Kentucky Bluegrass (smooth meadow-grass) playing field. The fan experience is enhanced by the heavy use of glass to give the stadium an indoor/outdoor feel, as well as three large doors on the ground floor that allows fans to be outside during a game. The Es Con Field Hokkaido also has 360-degree concourse, and the main entrance lobby is only 18 rows from the field.

But Es Con Field Hokkaido is more than a baseball stadium. The area around it, known as the Hokkaido Ballpark Village, will feature a museum, hotel, restaurant, sauna, and brewery, all with views of the field. The sauna, or Onsen, for which Hokkaido is known, will allow hotel guests to emerge from the water and sit on benches to watch a game. Plans also call for the opening later this year of a new child care center, as well as a senior living residence on the site by 2024 along with a medical mall.
 

The Challenge

‘HKS’ further stated that impressed by the HKS-designed Globe Life Field, home of the Texas Rangers, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters Japanese baseball team selected HKS to design its new 35,000-capacity stadium in time for the 2023 celebration of the Fighters’ 20th year in Hokkaido. The team wanted to create more than just a stadium, however, but a “small City” that would look and feel like Hokkaido, with multiple partners who are willing to build together a creative entertainment capital for the region.

In addition, because Hokkaido is the Northernmost of the Japanese islands, designers faced the challenge of creating a stadium that could still host games even in extremely cold or snowy conditions, while still allowing for the growth of natural turf for the safety and better performance of the players. Also, the Fighters required a stadium and surrounding mixed-use development that would only not be state-of-the-art for the fans, but for the players as well, all while maintaining the “feel” of Hokkaido. The symbolic triangular façade resembles a typical Hokkaido gable roof shape that sheds snow. Introducing it as a massive glass wall gives it a modern impression.
 

The Design Solution

Working to overcome communication challenges, the HKS-led design team used a thorough analysis to study the history, climate and culture of the region and collaborated closely with the Fighters to create the ideal ballpark and mixed-use development. A retractable roof satisfied the requirement to protect fans and players from the elements. Hokkaido is one of the world’s snowiest places and the roof can hold up to 14 feet of frozen precipitation. The retractable roof, which will usually remain open, will also allow the team to use a natural grass field, which is easier on the players’ knees and legs. And the stadium itself is oriented to get the most morning sun and optimize growing conditions for the turf. Also, the team’s clubhouse is the second largest in the world behind only that of the Texas Rangers at the Globe Life Field.

For fans, the Es Con Field Hokkaido Ballpark and the development around it is designed to be a unique experience and destination. The stadium is asymmetrical to offer variation and different experiences, and designers used lots of glass to maintain transparency and augment the important inside/outside connection. The glass also allows for lots of natural light, which further enhances the fan experience.

The stadium and its surrounding development sit on an 80-acre greenfield site, with various elevations that allow fans to always enter the ballpark at the concourse level, regardless of their entry point, and easily go up or down from there. Because nature is so integral to the Hokkaido lifestyle, landscaped terraces at the stadium provide plenty of access to the outdoors, both visually and literally. In addition to the glass that allows great views of nature and the landscape, two large doors on the ground floor allow fans to be outside during an event to enjoy the natural atmosphere. A two-layered escalator system allows fans to easily navigate the stadium’s 360-degree concourse, which serves to encourage them to explore the entire stadium and leads to more access to the outside.

Despite the openness and accessibility of the ballpark, however, HKS designers worked to make sure it feels intimate and “right-sized” wherever a visitor happens to be. Spectators have clear site lines to the field and beyond. The main entrance lobby is only 18 rows from the field, and the Home Plate Club is a scant 14 meters (45.9 feet) from the home plate itself. The twin 86x16m videoboards are located left and right of the centerfield so that fans have an unobstructed view of the mountains.

In addition to the stadium, the development will also feature a museum, hotel, restaurant, resorts, brewery, and sauna – all with views of the field. The sauna, or Onsen for which Hokkaido is famous, was created by digging 1,300m (4,265 feet) into the earth to reach the hot natural spring water. On gamedays, hotel guests can emerge from the water, sit on benches and watch the Fighters take the diamond. And to reach the stadium, regional trains run both from the airport in Chitose (City in Hokkaido) and Sapporo – Hokkaido’s capital and largest City – to the stadium, combined with a well-designed street system that connects the ballpark to the train and regional highways.

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