On April 5, 2018, Northwestern University opened the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Fieldhouse as part of a transformational multi-purpose center on the university’s Evanston, Illinois, campus. The glass, metal and stone complex – with unobstructed views east and north toward Lake Michigan – will integrate with existing athletic and recreational facilities, student residence halls and parking facilities, and create a sustainable environment that is sensitive to the lakefront setting.
One of the first key steps taken with this project was making the decision to bring athletics back to campus, with the existing athletics locations being too remote from the student-athletes. By bringing this type of facility to campus, Ryan Fieldhouse provides Northwestern student-athletes with access to a year-round practice and training space, including Wilson Field for football, lacrosse field, soccer, and field hockey.
One of the challenges of bringing a 419,00-square-feet venue to campus was the site. In order to make the fieldhouse fit along the sensitive lakefront area, the design team had to come up with a way that maintained a continuous lakefront path around the structure. The path is an extension of an existing path that winds its way along the campus shoreline, allowing students, faculty, staff, and the larger Evanston community to stroll and exercise on the university grounds. It’s also the same path that makes it’s way past the Segal Visitors Center, with now both buildings designed by Perkins+Will anchoring either end.
The form of the domed roof is the result of the activity taking place inside, namely punting a football and having enough ceiling height to accommodate the hang time. The dome is an elliptical response supported by a series of steel trusses. Engineered by the project’s structural consultant, WSP, an arch is placed at every 10 yard line on the football field (or every 30 feet). The roof slopes down to a flat edge in order to meet the Evanston zoning height requirements, yet not succumb to a gabled solution. Seeing the water when looking out from the cantilevered Ryan Fieldhouse creates the sensation that you are out on to Lake Michigan. A truly wonderful vantage point.
In addition to the inventive dome, the Ryan Fieldhouse curtain walls eliminate all vertical mullions, thus very minimally obstructing the lake views except for the main arch lines. The lack of vertical mullions further enhance the panoramic views.
With our Northwestern client requesting a glassy building that takes advantage of daylight without harsh glare and heat gain, the north-facing glass does just that, allowing an abundance of light in, while embracing views to the lake.
The resulting experience of approaching the building is impressive. Arriving via the lakeside path, you’re able to get a sense for the elegant seawall designed by civil engineer and landscape architect SmithGroupJJR, deflecting Lake Michigan waves, and ice in the winter.
If you’re arriving for practice, you will come into the building through a long lobby that opens up to a large, double-height space, inviting student-athletes off the lakefront path and guiding them into the fieldhouse. The locker rooms on Level 1 feature lounges and sport medicine spaces below the fieldhouse with views to the lake.
This arrangement and sequence of spaces helps Northwestern student-athletes, coaches, and visitors maintain a strong relationship to the site so you feel connected to the action happening inside and outside. It’s a project that Northwestern Deputy Director of Athletics, Brian Baptiste, said will “benefit the entire campus community,” positioning Northwestern as leader in student-focused athletic facilities. The remaining building, the Mark and Kimbra Walter Athletics Center, will open in the summer of 2018, providing additional facilities for the athletics administration, football meetings rooms, as well as dining and academic space for athletes.