While previous generations of Chicago Bears fans trooped to North Burnham Park through a vast sea of cars, Hoerr Schaudt’s design sinks the stadium’s parking beneath a nine-acre green roof and uses sculptured landforms to surround Soldier Field with seventeen acres of parkland.
Soldier Field, the storied home of the Chicago Bears, has always been an exciting place for football fans. The energy, the camaraderie, the hometown pride – these are the things that make sporting events so impactful to our cities. This joy, however, was limited to fans, bound by the walls of the stadium on game days. Beyond the confines of the stadium and most days of the year, the site was merely acres of asphalt surface parking, a sea of gray intended for nothing and no one but cars, posing a major void in one of the most geographically significant sites in the city.
As part of a massive renovation of the stadium that vastly improved its functionality and use came the realization that the space surrounding the stadium was being wasted as parking, and Soldier Field should become a place for everyone. As part of the renovation, the Chicago Park District engaged Hoerr Schaudt as the landscape architect for the project with the charge to “reclaim” the continuous green shoreline envisioned in architect Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago.
A project of this scale offered numerous challenges. For example, how would the team coordinate overlapping layers of vehicular and pedestrian circulation without snarling traffic or spoiling the scenery? How could two powerhouses – the McCormick Place convention center and the Museum Campus – be unified through Soldier Field landscape? And how could the Bears’ front yard provide a thrilling year-round destination for visitors whose outdoor pursuits range far beyond end zones and LED scoreboards?
The first step was to relocate the parking to underground facilities on site, freeing up substantial space. Excavation for the garages – one subterranean, the other partially below grade – yielded more than 120,000 cubic yards of fill. Instead of carting soil off site, Peter Schaudt chose to use the found material as his creative medium, moving earth the way a sculptor models clay. Now grassy hills and valleys roll over former surface parking lots and across the roof of the 2,500-car underground facility. As one of the largest green roofs constructed at this time, the project used structural foam to support the nine-acre landscape without exceeding weight restrictions. The design wove a sinuous network of paths through an undulating landscape of multi-season ground covers and groves of trees; ideal for game-day walks, spur-of-the-moment excursions, and visitors sightseeing.
Once parking had been resolved, the next step was to figure out what to do with the newly created 17-acres of park land. North of Soldier Field, a Children’s Garden was created to thematically connect the park to the adjacent museum campus. The garden features six globes which represent various aspects of the earth, as well as a half sphere climbing rope structure. Strolls to the south – past formal flowerbeds and groves of trees – lead to a Winter Garden and Sledding Hill. Its thirty-three foot summit also ranks as a prime location to stop and take in the magnificent Chicago skyline. Daniel Burnham’s vision is continued in this significant project that transforms the city’s lakefront.
ASLA Illinois Honor Award 2005
Green Roof Award of Excellence, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities 2004
Building with Trees Award, National Arbor Day Foundation 2004
Best New Open Space Award, Friends of Downtown Chicago 2004