Lane Welter ’85
Ballparks are a grand slam for architect
For the record, Lane Welter’s favorite sport will always be football. Before transferring to UTSA in 1983, he was a walk-on for the Longhorns at UT Austin. And in high school in San Antonio he was on the Churchill squad that went 15-0 and won the 1976 4A state championship.
But Welter has made a career for himself because of another sport—baseball—after working as lead architect on several high-profile projects: Coors Field in Denver, Minute Maid Park in Houston and the renovation of RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
"There’s a connection to the past that baseball has that football just doesn’t," Welter says. "And the reason baseball has that, I think, is because of the facilities it’s played in. It’s a Fenway, it’s a Wrigley Field, it’s even the old Yankee Stadium."
Whereas football stadiums are fairly regular in their geometry and require immense space to accommodate the facility and parking, ballparks historically were built with whatever land was available, Welter says. "The fields can be different in dimensions and size and shape and function," he says. "Baseball becomes much more urban and resultant of the environment it’s put in."
After earning his B.F.A. in architecture in 1985, Welter worked on "some really good projects in San Antonio," including the main entrance to SeaWorld San Antonio, Palo Alto College and the Biosciences Building at his alma mater, UTSA. He got involved in arena architecture in 1989, when local firm Marmon Mok hired him to work on the Alamodome.
"Being a frustrated jock but having a love of architecture, I couldn’t imagine anything better than being able to design sports facilities. I thought, how cool is that, that somebody can actually make a living designing sports stadiums. And I thought, how difficult can this be?" he recalls. "I was in for a very, very rude awakening. It was an incredible three-year learning experience working on the Alamodome."
The project also gave him plenty of networking opportunities, and in 1993, he was hired by the Kansas City–based HOK Sport (now Populous), which specializes in sports facilities and convention centers. He immediately started working on the Coors Field project, which held special interest for him because he was born in Denver.
"I quickly learned that baseball and domed football stadiums are two completely different animals," he says. "I have to say that was probably one of the best experiences of my life working on that job."
His other big projects hold special places in his heart as well. Minute Maid Park was appealing because Welter and his brother used to listen to the Astros on the radio (in the days before cable television). And RFK was the home of the Washington Redskins for 36 seasons; his grandfather lived in Fairfax, Va., and was a "huge, huge Redskins fan."
In his career, Welter has worked for several firms; he’s now with Turner Construction in Phoenix, and his latest big project is the $890 million expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (the project is on hold until next year due to the recession). But ballparks remain his favorite architectural challenge, and in addition to the major league parks, he has worked on minor league ballparks around the country, including parks in Akron, Ohio; Manchester, N.H.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Midland, Texas.
"Even if you’re not a huge fan of baseball," he says, "there’s something magical about walking into a baseball stadium.
"I love the intensity and the competitiveness of football. But I love going to a baseball game because it’s about people watching, it’s about seeing the first pitch, it’s about singing the seventh-inning stretch."
— Rebecca Luther