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Soldier Field Renovation Brings Out Boo-Birds

Tue Jun 17, 2003 1:17 pm

From the NY Times

"CHICAGO, June 15 — It looks like a U.F.O. crash-landed on an ancient ruin; it's a giant egg in a giant egg cup; it's like a fat man trying to wedge himself into a skinny man's shorts.

Those are some of the things people here are saying about a futuristic renovation of Soldier Field that is under way. The project is quite the topic of conversation among architects and authors and just about anyone who drives by. Not much of it is flattering.

Soldier Field, which opened in 1924, is the Colosseum-like home of the Chicago Bears. But to add more modern amenities and luxury seating, the city, which owns the stadium, embarked last year on a renovation, converting it into a modern football arena where steel and glass meet neo-Classical Doric columns.

The architects call the new stadium design bold, aggressive and pioneering. But critics here say the renovation has desecrated a national landmark. Soldier Field, they insist, is no longer Soldier Field.

"This is not the graceful, classical acropolis of Chicago anymore," said David Bahlman, president of the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, which tried to stop the renovation plan. "If you'd never seen Soldier Field before this, you'd have a hard time figuring out what the original structure looked like."

Renovations that meld old and new are not unheard of. They are known as parabuildings, and some, like an airy new entrance for the Brooklyn Museum of Art, have been favorably received.

But the newspapers here have not been kind. The Chicago Tribune has called the new Soldier Field the "Monstrosity on the Midway" and the "Mistake by the Lake." The Chicago Sun-Times recently released the results of a poll that declared it the city's ugliest building.

Mayor Richard M. Daley, who pushed for the modernization of Soldier Field, is being criticized for ruining a historic treasure and damaging a part of the city's magnificent lakefront. His staff is scrambling to put the best face on the new arena.

"We feel really good about this design," said Lee Bey, deputy chief of staff for planning and design in the mayor's office. "Even if it infuriates, it puts its foot down. We have to get away from this idea of architecture that's polite."

The owners of the Bears are also taking heat. The National Football League team, after all, had long pressed the city for an upgrade on a stadium it had used since 1971.

The city considered placing a dome over Soldier Field, a retractable, translucent roof. They also considered reshaping the stadium by lowering the field 21 feet. But that would have put the players underwater, since Lake Michigan is nearby.

Finally, two years ago, the city and the Bears agreed on a solution: they would place a modern football stadium inside the rim of the old Soldier Field. That would involve cutting out the innards of the flat, low-lying stadium and inserting what looks like a jackknifed Mile High Stadium in the center.

Critics blasted the plan. But the city did not budge. Just hours after the Bears ended their season on January 19, 2002, (they played last year at the University of Illinois stadium in Champaign), construction workers began dismantling Soldier Field.

One of the harshest critics of the new arena is Blair Kamin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic for The Chicago Tribune. Mr. Kamin has called the plan a "nightmare" and said it would disrupt the classical ensemble of buildings on the lakefront and destroy the architectural integrity of the original Soldier Field, which is a National Historic Landmark. No other major professional sports stadium is so designated. Being designated a National Historic Landmark (and there are about 2,500, including the Empire State Building) does not prevent the owner from renovating, unless federal money is involved.

The new, $400 million stadium, which is being paid for by the Bears and the city's hotel tax, is scheduled to be completed in time for the team's home opener on Sept. 29.

Critics say they do not even recognize the old Soldier Field in the stadium going up. On the stadium's west side, the new grandstand towers over the old colonnades.

"It's definitely ridiculous," said Stanley Tigerman, an local architect. "It's way out of scale with the colonnades."

The author Studs Terkel, who at 91 is one of the few Chicago icons older than Soldier Field, said it was a shame. "I think it's grotesque what they've done," he said. "That was the Colosseum. Every time I go by it I just want to say, `Bring out the lions! Bring out the lions!' "

The new project's architects, Wood & Zapata of Boston, say that to keep the colonnades intact and meet N.F.L. regulations on things like sightlines, they were forced to compress the new stadium inside the old one, and that meant towering grandstands.

There was no way to keep Soldier Field's old character, said Carlos Zapata, one of the principal designers of the stadium.

"You cannot cantilever a classical style because classical buildings don't do that," he said. "This is a modern building. And modern means changing. This is 2003, not 1920 or 1800."

City officials said the ruckus was just Chicagoans exercising themselves over a city icon. Let the fans decide whether the new stadium, which will be surrounded by 19 acres of new parkland, works, they say.

The early returns are mixed. On Thursday afternoon, Lauren Smith, 35, was sitting on the steps of the nearby Field Museum watching construction workers hammer away at the new Soldier Field. Asked what she thought of the stadium's new look, Ms. Smith said, "It looks kind of confusing to me."

Her 10-year-old daughter, Megan, jumped in, "It's cool." Then 8-year-old Caitlin piped up with her own take on the new structure.

"I think it looks like a broken flying saucer," she said with a giggle. "

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RE: Soldier Field Renovation Brings Out Boo-Birds

Tue Jun 17, 2003 4:01 pm

that pic makes it look pretty bad, but I'd like to see other angles and a big picture of the whole stadium.

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RE: Soldier Field Renovation Brings Out Boo-Birds

Tue Jun 17, 2003 4:21 pm

It looks like the background set for the movie, "Independence Day"
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RE: Soldier Field Renovation Brings Out Boo-Birds

Wed Jun 18, 2003 12:00 am

That area of Chicago has been positively raped lately...first the Meigs this hideous excuse for a stadium...Soldier Field was good the way it was before, now it makes me wanna puke...

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RE: Soldier Field Renovation Brings Out Boo-Birds

Wed Jun 18, 2003 3:07 am

I guess since Cleveland torn down Municipal Stadium, somebody needs the "Mistake By The Lake" nickname, and Soldier Field gets it in a landslide.
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RE: Soldier Field Renovation Brings Out Boo-Birds

Wed Jun 18, 2003 3:03 pm

Well said Srbmod...very true...

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RE: Soldier Field Renovation Brings Out Boo-Birds

Wed Jun 18, 2003 3:13 pm

If anyone can get an Aerial View up, they'll notice that Meigs Field is right next to this Stadium...Daley's got to be stopped!

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RE: Soldier Field Renovation Brings Out Boo-Birds

Thu Jun 19, 2003 3:59 am

I was looking through some old pictures last night of a trip I took to Chicago in of the pictures is of Soldier Field and Meigs taken from the John Hancock Building...before they were maimed and wrecked by Daley...that same picture taken today would be very different...

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