I read Michael Miner's Hot Type article "The New Contrarians" [August 22] about Soldier Field with great interest. I also think that the new stadium deserves an open conversation about its positive design and civic attributes. I am a practicing architect that has real experience in the design and construction of both outdoor and enclosed stadia and arenas. Except for the siting of the new Bears stadium at Soldier Field, I believe that the new facility will be a great improvement for the city, for the fans, and for Chicago sports teams.
First, it is necessary to say that the choice of Soldier Field as the site to construct a new "bowl" has been unfortunate for the architects, Lohan Caprile Goettch. The historic Beaux Arts spats under the 21st-century modern "bowl" creates an awkward relationship between Chicago's past and its future that I hope will not become a precedent for token future Chicago preservation.
On the other hand, I believe that the new "bowl" is a brilliant and forward-looking example of modern architecture that will serve the city and its citizens well. Unlike the recent stadia in Baltimore, Dallas, Cleveland, and other cities, where the designs look over their shoulders to trite, eclectic form and architecture, this stadium represents the most advanced design for sports architecture and should become a welcome addition to Chicago's civic life as well as an example to other cities.
Specifically, the design is a unique and powerful expression of the realities of current public arenas where tens of thousands of fans can come together to share in sports and civic events with the best possible sight lines, comfort, amenities, and group participation. The old Soldier Field could never have placed so many seats as close to the field of action as this design. The old field created only one type of seating in an open arena, where this design optimizes several types of seating options within one unified bowl. The old Soldier Field could not possibly house the amount and type of amenities that fans, athletes, and teams do and will demand.
This design does not rely on a worn-out template of symmetrical, layer-cake, formulaic stadium design that has been reproduced too often in North America from the 1980s to the present. While these templates may be the easiest to design and construct, they do not critically examine the real experience of patron participation in the game. The introduction of skyboxes and club seating should have, but has not, changed the traditional stadium form. Chicago's new "bowl," on the other hand, creates architectural forms where each type of seating is individually optimized instead of merely plopping one type of seating on top of another. The west grandstand provides magnificent, traditional open seating with a rake that places the seats as close to the field as possible (and much closer than the old Soldier Field) while shading the majority of the fans from the glare of the setting sun. The cupped form of the east side of the "bowl" places open seating low and close to the field below several tiers of cantilevered skyboxes, where the corporate fans will have a dynamic relationship to the sports action, and there are no nosebleed seats above the skyboxes, as is the case at Comiskey Park and the United Center. The ends of the bowl, where the cheap seats with poor vision of the field are traditionally placed, are open and used for the scoreboards and video displays that can be seen by all attendees. There should not be a bad seat in the place.
In my opinion, this is a case where it would have been easy for other architects to place a bad stadium in a bad location. Instead, these architects have placed the best possible stadium within the overwhelming constraints of the historic Soldier Field facade. To their credit, I look forward to the day when all Chicago citizens are proud of this public facility.
Hill Burgess, AIA