Arts and Architecture

Using geodesign for Major League Baseball stadium development

A student's final design concept for mixed-use development near a new baseball stadium for the Atlanta Braves. Real-world data is used to inform the creation of different design ideas for a student-selected site. Credit: J. RingerAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The best way for students to learn about geodesign is to apply their learning to real world projects, especially because many of the online students are already in the workforce.

Jim Sipes, a faculty member for the online geodesign program at Penn State and renowned designer with Sand County Studios, developed a project to investigate the new Atlanta Braves baseball stadium and neighborhood development as the challenge for the fall 2016 Geodesign II course on urban landscape change issues.

“This studio course provides the closest approximation to a professional setting, where multiple consultants and stakeholders collaborate on the design and planning process,” explained Sipes. “Every urban area is part of a larger context, its region.”

The Atlanta Braves are currently building a new baseball stadium just north of Atlanta near the town of Smyrna, Georgia. The stadium will occupy 15 acres of a 60-acre property, with the remainder of the space devoted to parking, green space, and mixed-use development. The Braves also unveiled plans to build a $400 million entertainment district that will surround the ballpark. Although the new stadium will be more than 10 miles from the nearest train station, the Braves plan to use a "circulator" bus to shuttle fans to and from the stadium.

The stadium is expected to have a tremendous impact on the urban fabric of the region; however, it is unclear exactly what the impact will be, which is why Sipes chose the project for his course brief.

Students analyzed the impact that the new stadium may have on Smyrna, Cobb County and surrounding areas, and developed design and planning scenarios to provide solutions to complex problems. For the first part of the class, students worked with Hrishikesh Ballal, managing director of a geospatial digital tool called GeodesignHub. Students used this web-based system to collaborate in the course’s online studio format. It enabled teams to create and share concepts, to design collaboratively, and to receive change-assessments instantly — all in a highly synergetic, efficient and easy-to-use online environment.

“The software is especially effective in the early stages of a complex study or project when many alternatives must be rapidly created and considered,” noted Sipes. “Once each student selected a site, they then developed a program of land uses, generated quick concepts for a multi-use development, explored the impacts of the concepts, and developed preliminary and final designs.”

The primary purpose of mixed-use districts is to permit a mix of various housing types, commercial businesses and institutional buildings in a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood that emphasizes public open space, sustainable development, and social interaction. The hand-drawn concepts articulated the general layout of buildings, internal road circulation, public open space, parking, public amenities, pedestrian connectivity and other features. The program for the design required a minimum of 25 percent of the site be developed as public open space. Parking garages were encouraged, and shared parking approaches were used to reduce standard parking requirements. Students managed to incorporate the principles as well as learn to think critically about design.

“The coursework has stimulated my analytical and problem-solving skills. Thinking differently, from the geodesign perspective, helps to expand my mind, which is critical in planning efforts,” said Judith Movilla, a student in the course who is completing her Master of Professional Studies in Geodesign. “All courses from my master’s degree program tied directly into the tasks I've been doing on my job as a community planner for a military installation.”

Sipes will teach the Geodesign II course in fall 2017. Although he will present students with a different design challenge, students will again have the opportunity to learn about the comprehensive process of geodesign and consider factors that influence place, such as the environmental, economic and cultural systems.

The geodesign program at Penn State helps students acquire key skills to take the lead on complex environmental design problems that require the synthesis of geographic knowledge, geospatial analysis and best practices of design. Its unique combination of geodesign and geography courses enables students to learn to manage resources, anticipate change and imagine creative alternatives, all within an online environment.

“The feedback from our students about their experience in this course is overwhelmingly positive. Many share how geodesign is providing viable strategies for their current and future work, particularly as design projects become increasingly complex,” said Kelleann Foster, lead faculty member for the program and director of the Stuckeman School.

For more information about Geodesign, visit

Last Updated March 31, 2017