Stadium In A Park

Editor’s Note: Parks & Rec Business magazine presents the first part in a year-long series of articles devoted to park landscaping and grounds maintenance, Landscaper’s Corner. Please let us know if there’s a subject you’d like to see covered in this series, or if you have a unique project or perspective you’d like to share with your peers. Please drop us a line at

Chicago’s new Soldier Field is certainly an architectural wonder; a bright, modern facility with all the bells and whistles. You’re unlikely, however, to hear anything from the sports press about the creative morphing of the surrounding concrete jungle into undulating and interactive park land.

An integral part of the stadium redevelopment was a mixed-use open-space bridge between the stadium and Chicago’s world-famous triumvirate of museums — the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium — that make up Museum Campus.

Green Day

Though mostly a passive, green area, active elements include a Children’s Garden play area with a Planet Earth theme to reflect the museums’ attractions, and a sledding hill.

“The Children’s Garden is a great pre or post venue for the kids who go on school trips to the museums. There’s a good stretch of green space around it so they can blow off steam, plus the educational component. It’s also a neighborhood park, aside from all the visitors we get at the stadium and at the museums,” says Linda Daly, capital projects manager for the Chicago Park District.

“The goals of the park district were to not only create some new and interesting park space but to green up and create more passive space, and let people enjoy it at their leisure. You typically find much more hardscape around the perimeter of a stadium this size. From a design standpoint you have to break out of the mold. The project was to redevelop the stadium, but the lesson here was that if you weren’t open-minded none of these great new park improvements would be here today; it would be status quo and a lot of cement.”

The project’s landscape architect, Peter Lindsay Schaudt Landscape Architecture Inc. (PLSLA), working with Wood + Zapata Architecture and Lohan Caprile Goettsch Architects, came up with a natural-looking amphitheater-like design for the Children’s Garden. It creates a sense of enclosure, while allowing a high point for people to view the city, stadium and harbor, says Peter Schaudt, ASLA, design principal and president for PLSLA.

“You cannot have enough benches. We’ve clustered them together similar to Central Park’s mall. They’re placed together for a social space, fostering social contact for grandparents, parents and kids. When you design a children’s garden you have to think about the adults as well, and make it interesting for them,” adds Schaudt.

This general theme of landforms and hills that runs throughout the park was a creative way to accomplish a number of goals. Outside the Children’s Garden, it would be a subtle wayfinding device, saving money and even improving water quality.

“We saved a couple million dollars in hauling off material, and completely transformed that property from being essentially as flat as a pool table to a dune-like, undulating area.

The nice thing about using topography in a strong way is that you see green,” says Schaudt.

Excess material dug up during construction and redevelopment was also used to build a new sledding hill. The hill features a fully-accessible ramp on the backside and will be complete with snow-making equipment.

Another innovative use of topography was to bury the new underground parking garage under a sea of green, creating park land on top of parking.

“It was about taking the 120,000 cubic yards of material, reshaping the park and creating the new parking bridge primarily by burying the parking underground. The lesson we learned here was to take advantage of the roof of the parking structure for usable space,” recalls Schaudt.

“We don’t have the luxury of vast open spaces anymore, so you have to get a lot of mileage out of projects. Everything needs to be choreographed like a film, where you’re going from one spot to the next with elements in the landscape that are memorable.”

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