“He greatly influenced the way N.F.L. stadiums appeared from the 1990s through the 2000s, especially with respect to their seating bowls,” Earl Santee, a longtime colleague of Mr. Labinski’s and a senior principal at Populous, wrote in an email, referring to the shape of the seating sections. “Lower seating bowls in N.F.L. stadiums were formerly contiguous, but Ron had the idea to create ‘neighborhoods’ of fans, providing different experiences in different areas.”
Ronald Joseph Labinski was born on Dec. 7, 1937, in Buffalo. His father, Raymond, was a wholesale food salesman; his mother, Bertha Labinski, was a homemaker. Ron was artistic from a young age, drawing houses, barns and windmills — and in one instance Ebbets Field, the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, showing a baseball leaving that beloved little bandbox.
“I guess you could say that was a sign,” he told The Kansas City Star in 2000.
After graduating from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, with a bachelor’s degree in architecture, he spent six months in Europe studying architecture on a fellowship and two years in the Army at Fort Riley, Kan. He designed hospitals for a firm in Kansas City before being hired by Kivett & Myers, where he was assigned to the Arrowhead project.
After several years, he formed the firm Devine, James, Labinski & Myers, which lost its bid to design the Hoosier Dome (where the Indianapolis Colts played until 2007) to a much larger rival, HNTB. But Mr. Labinski’s concepts for the stadium were impressive enough for HNTB to hire him, and he brought along several of his colleagues and set up a sports architecture practice within the firm.
He and other members of his group left HNTB after three years to join HOK, bringing about a dozen HNTB clients with them. HOK Sport became one of the foremost stadium and arena designers nationally and internationally.