Soldier Field Addition

Soldier Field Addition in Chicago, Illinois by Wood + Zapata

The proposed Soldier Field addition in Chicago, Illinois by Wood + Zapata, of Boston, and local architect Dirk Lohan of Lohan Associates, is the most controversial project in Chicago since Helmut Jahn's State of Illinois Building (now Jarmes R. Thompson Center) was built in 1985. In the latter the public was offended by the non-contextual design, a steel and reflective glass shell with a curved, stepped setback, drawing responses that it resembled an alien craft landing in the loop. While the proposed addition to Soldier Field has also been called an alien spaceship, the design is only a small part of the controversy over the addition, with issues of transportation, scale and, primarily, the use of lakefront property also being raised. Definitely worthy of the controversy, the City of Chicago's attempt to add to an historical structure raises questions about history's, corporations', and public space's relationship to the city.

Completed in 1924 by Chicago's Holabird and Roche (now Holabird & Root), Soldier Field was dedicated to the soldiers of the armed forces, particularly of World War I. The stadium's original design created an opening to the north to allow for parades and other events to spill inside from the park, coordinated with the city's intention to keep the lakefront for public use. The eventual closing of the north end, the later construction of nearby McCormick Place and Meigs Field, and the Chicago Bears calling Soldier Field home cemented this mile-and-a-half stretch of lakefront as a battleground for private/public space of the lakefront. With McCormick expanding west across Lake Shore Drive and plans for a nature preserve on Miegs Field when it closes in a few years, only Soldier Field, and its sea of parking lots, remains as a cause for lakefront activists to fight against.

Zapata's design was recently approved by the city's Planning Commission, to be financed by a hotel tax, bonds, and the Chicago Bears, the primary user of Soldier Field. The city's decision drew a lawsuit by the Friends of the Park, citing that the design breaks the law that protects the lakefront from private development and defaces a historically-registered structure. The design attempts to respond to the latter by inserting the new structure within the old and keeping the signature colonnade to the west, though it is obviously driven by the former, the design dictated by sight lines and other requirements for NFL games. The city and the Park District's statements that the stadium will be available to the public outside of the ten days for Bears games and will give back to the city with additional park land (over parking garages) and a new memorial for the armed forces are clearly political and questionable.

Two major arguments for keeping the Bears at Soldier Field are its amazing location and the city's capacity to coexist with such a large, empty structure (witness Wrigley Field). The arguments against the addition (defacing the original design and its function and privatizing the lakefront) ignore the city's imperative ability to change over time, dealing with progress and hardships alike. The proposed design, while far from perfect, or even acceptable, admirably attempts to deal with these changes as mentioned earlier. It falls short, though, as the design does not attempt to relate to the old structure, and grassing over parking does not make a humane, usable parkscape. With so many questions regarding design, ownership, public space and the power of money, no solution will please everybody or be easy in the making, though the battle will be an interesting one, fought over the battleground of the city.