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The renovation of iconic Wrigley Field is an example of large-scale building recycling

December 05, 2017

By Andy Pigozzi

Historic preservation inspires reuse on a massive scale at Chicago’s Wrigley Field—here are 5 ways this was no ordinary renovation

Just a few years ago, a greatly loved icon of Chicago sports culture was in dreadful shape. Built in 1914, Wrigley Field was among a wave of steel and concrete ballparks that emerged from a stadium renaissance of which only a few remain. 

In 1937, Wrigley Field acquired its outfield bleachers and manual scoreboard, and the ivy for its original outfield wall was planted. But a series of patch jobs over the years—concrete slabs on its façade—had worn away much of the ballpark’s charm. And that was far from the worst of it.    

Wrigley’s structural deterioration was severe, largely because its foundation sits on sand over mud and water. Its main columns were being pushed far beyond their crushing limit. The ballpark was literally tearing itself apart. The structure couldn’t withstand the loads imposed on it.

Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs, was built in 1914.

What’s more, its modest size and presence in a dense urban neighborhood where expansion was difficult made Wrigley generally unsuited to the demands of today’s pro baseball experience. It was a hindrance to recruiting efforts for the Cubs.

It sat on brownfield lot and its surrounding neighborhood of Wrigleyville was showing evidence of urban decay. Wrigley Field was in such a state of disrepair that major structural work would be required for it to continue as a Major League ballpark. It would need to be modernized for players, fans, and the media.

Could the revived ballpark also benefit the neighborhood, too?

Putting aside historic significance and Wrigley’s beloved status in Chicago, it wouldn’t have been hard to justify tearing the old ballpark down and building new elsewhere—though the outcry might have been deafening. Luckily, there were incentives to saving Wrigley. First off, Cubs lore and love for the place were important, but tax incentives for historic preservation was also among the key factors to saving the historic ballpark. Out of that emerge the 1060 Project, which Stantec serves as the architect of record, which sought to revive, renovate, and keep the best parts of the ballpark while modernizing it in every aspect.

Reviving Wrigley Field also became an opportunity for very large scale building reuse—and it’s through the lens of sustainability that Wrigley really shines.

Here are five ways this was no ordinary building reuse project.

1. Scale

This was a huge repurposing project. While Wrigley has 2/3 the footprint of a modern ballpark, it’s still a large building at 392,000 square feet. Reusing and renovating the building was likely less costly as an investment and uses far less material than construction of a new ballpark. The challenge, of course, was how to reuse a historic building and make it functional for 21st century.

Salvaging the iconic Wrigley Field marquee.

2. Salvage and reuse 

Salvage and reuse was a big part of the restoration at Wrigley. Reuse means less new material was required than to build a new ballpark. What did we reuse? We salvaged the stadium’s existing structure. We retained 60% of the brick in the outfield wall. The ivy was kept alive during construction and replanted. We salvaged existing guardrails and reused them in assemblies. We preserved the fascia, reinstalling it after structural improvements. We salvaged the iconic marquee sign, reconstructed it, and rewired it with original elements. The caretaker’s house had to be preserved for landmark requirements, it was moved out and moved back. Ultimately, there’s nothing greener than to preserve and restore and old building, which is a better use of resources than a tear down to build a new LEED facility.

3. Big plans, small footprint

This reuse project called for a design that could incorporate a new state-of-the-art clubhouse, new premium seating areas and clubs, and even food service on site. Because of the limited space, we excavated downward and built up the stadium facilities underground. Read here for more on that.

4. Soil, water, structure, and infrastructure

Reusing the building required us to make it structurally sound. We had to drill deep—beneath the water table and quicksand under the superstructure—to reach bedrock. The solution utilized a revolutionary micropile technology, which achieved a record setting 1,000 Kip load test required by the City of Chicago. The installation process also enabled the contractor to perform the work under the existing upper terrace stadia. Each major F-line column was lifted from the existing footing with custom engineered shoring and reset on the new deep foundation in a 13-week process per column.

5. Community

The building had to do more than it had done before to truly revitalize the community, it had to reverse the effects of blight in the area and speak to Wrigleyville during the offseason. Today, Wrigley Field incorporates a public park—the Park at Wrigley—which can be accessed on non-game days where it hosts festivals and farmers’ markets, morning yoga, and Wiggleworms. Along the with an adjacent Cubs office building and the Hotel Zachary, the revamped stadium and park sets a course for a revitalized and multi-faceted neighborhood that welcomes reinvestment.

  • Andy Pigozzi

    As an architect and project manager, Andy has focused his career on business development. He works on education, municipal, and sports and recreation projects, and he shapes the City of Evanston’s community through their Plan Commission.

    Contact Andy
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