From ten years ago: A computer animated architectural tour of the new Soldier Field

March 15, 2013

The Soldier Field redesign was the most most hotly-debated Chicago architectural and preservation issue in decades.

Under a design by Boston architecture firm Wood + Zapata and Chicago's Lohan Caprile Goettsch (both firm exist under different banners today), a new stadium interior would be built within the neo-classical exterior of lakefront landmark. That the silvery new elements could be seen poking outside the confines of the old raised many a hackle. You think the recent battle to save Prentice hospital was heated? It was a sword fight compared to the full-on war over Soldier Field.

"It is a travesty," the respected John Buenz of the firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz told Chicago magazine at the time. Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin called it the "Eyesore on the Lakeshore," and when the stadium opened, he called it "brilliant and ultimately jarring failure." But the New York Times called the stadium one of the five best new buildings of 2003.

Ah, 2003. A decade has passed since then, can you believe? I didn't fully realize that much time had passed until I stumbled across a DVD last night containing the video above.

I was architecture and urban planning advisor to Mayor Richard M. Daley during the reconstruction project. Given the stadium's design was being criticized by those who were viewing static renderings on paper,  I wanted a computer animated tour showing the completed project and how the new and old spaces fit together. It was important to show the stadium's historic colonnades were being opened up and used, rather than being crammed with skyboxes as they were under the existing plan. We also wanted to show the new parkland and public spaces under the plan.

We burned scores of these DVDs and gave them to TV stations, aldermanic ward offices--and any citizen who wanted one.

Chicago-based Vertex Graphics worked with the architects and the team to create a 10-minute video (pared down to six minutes here), which holds up pretty well after 10 years. The people populating the stadium were volunteers Vertex found. (My own daughters appear at several points--the camera runs right past them at 1:42.)

I can't say if the video changed any opinions. I remember getting calls and email from people who liked the design after seeing the video broadcast, but they might have been so inclined anyway.

The debate over the stadium continues on some levels. A few months ago in my neighborhood, a guy recognized me and wanted to discuss Soldier Field.

"I still don't like it," he said. Last weekend at a dinner party, a fellow guest brought up the stadium.

"It's a great place to see a game," he said. "I like the design."