ENGINEERING: TAKING THE WIND OUT OF BASEBALL
When they moved home plate from 3Com Park at Candlestick Point to Pacific Bell Park in downtown San Francisco in September, Bruce White wasn't sorry to see it go. The aeronautical engineering professor knows better than most how much more comfortable the Giants' new home will be for fans and players alike. That's because White, a specialist in wind studies, was consulted by the Giants and their architects on the stadium's design to ensure the calmest possible conditions in the midst of this windy city.
Using a 1/50th scale model of downtown San Francisco placed inside the campus's wind tunnel, the only one of its kind west of the Rockies, White tested two proposed Pac Bell Park designs. He found that the design favored by the architects--one that opened on the city and allowed retail and restaurants to face the China Basin waterfront--would have been twice as windy for fans than 3Com Park. He recommended the alternative design--with the stadium rotated 90 degrees and the stands facing the Bay Bridge--which he found will have wind levels that are approximately half those at 3Com Park. That recommended design is now under construction and scheduled to be open in April.
"When Candlestick was designed, this field of engineering didn't exist," said White, "and so it wasn't able to take advantage of what we know nowadays. Today we can do tests and say that if the stadium had been moved to the northwest one or two football field-lengths it probably would be very calm, at least inside."
When White was a doctoral student at Iowa State University in the 1970s, the field of environmental wind engineering was in its infancy. For his doctoral dissertation, he put a wind tunnel to one of its first environmental uses, studying dust storms on Mars. After graduating he did similar work for NASA Ames Research Center in California before he joined UC Davis in 1974 and, with the assistance of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, built a wind tunnel on the Davis campus.
In the 1980s he served as a member of a commission for the city of San Francisco that drafted the country's first wind ordinance; it requires assessment and mitigation of wind impacts created by new high-rise buildings. White has since become well known for his wind expertise and has served as a consultant for a number of San Francisco, Sacramento and UC Davis building projects. Much of his work concerns clean-air assessments--he studies, for example, the placement and height of smoke stacks to ensure that toxic gases are discharged safely. His wind tunnel facility has attracted research grants from NASA, the Livermore lab, the California Air Resources Board and the California State Lands Commission.
White was consulted early in the Pac Bell Park planning process, even before voters approved the facility. The 40-year-old Candlestick stadium had been notorious for its bone-chilling weather. Wind sweeps down Bay View Hill and then disperses in gusts and swirls inside the Candlestick stadium, blowing pitchers off the mound, whipping balls around and freezing the fans. The westerly winds at China Basin are comparable--the new stadium is, after all, only a few miles directly north of the old--but planners were determined not to replicate the 'Stick's frigid conditions.
White is confident that the new park will be quite comfortable. Its facade will take the brunt of the blows as Barry Bonds' homers splash down in the bay.
"The edges of the upper decks could still be a bit windy," White said, "but the entire area between first and third base around home plate will be quite nice." He hopes to be there opening day--class schedule permitting.
Photo by Jim von Rummelhoff/UC Davis Illustration Services.