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Field of Pain

The renovation of Soldier Field is a chance for the architect Dirk Lohan, grandson of Ludwig Mies van der Rhoe, to leave his mark on the lakefront. But relentless derision has been the overriding response to the design.

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“When I was young,” says Dirk Lohan, “my heart used to palpitate when I went to a building site.” He is looking around Soldier Field, where hundreds of construction workers are engaged in the largest renovation project the venerable stadium has undergone since it opened in 1924. Then he pauses for a moment.

“It’s not the same now,” he says. “I’m older. But this is still a very big project.”

To put it mildly. The $606-million renovation of Soldier Field-$632 million, if you accept the Chicago Tribune’s figures-is easily the largest project Lohan has undertaken in an architecture career that has spanned 40 years and has included everything from highly praised additions for the nearby Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium to lucrative corporate commissions for some of the biggest companies in America: McDonald’s, TRW, Frito-Lay, and Ameritech.

Soldier Field is the 64-year-old Lohan’s bid to join the ranks of Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jens Jensen, and the other creators of what is usually regarded as the city’s most distinctive feature-the lakefront.

It is also his chance to leave a definitive mark on a city where he is still better known for his family connections-he is the grandson of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the most influential architect of the past century-than for his own considerable achievements.

“The lakefront is the sacred cow of the city,” says Lohan. “It deserves to be improved as time goes on. But nobody wants to ruin it or kill it. It’s untouchable.”

Lohan is here on this muggy August afternoon to give a reporter a tour and perhaps garner some favorable publicity for a project that can definitely use it. Over the past two years, Soldier Field has become the city’s most controversial lakefront construction project since the first Mayor Daley-with the full support of the Tribune-approved the construction of McCormick Place in 1960.

That was then, however. This time around, the Tribune is throwing its weight in the opposite direction. Leading the way has been Blair Kamin, the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize–winning architecture critic and someone Lohan once counted as a friend. There have been dozens of articles by Kamin and by other writers and columnists attacking the project as an aesthetic, political, and financial nightmare.

Seldom, in fact, has a project received such universally negative reviews. In addition to a groundswell of criticism by civic and preservation groups, the architecture community has been withering in its comments. “It’s a travesty,” says John Buenz, a principal with Solomon Cordwell Buenz & Associates. “A fiasco,” says Stanley Tigerman. Even Joseph Antunovich, Lohan’s right-hand man for many years until he left to found his own firm in the early nineties, is dismissive. “Somewhere along the way the planning got misguided,” Antunovich says.

 

The project has also provoked a lawsuit by the Friends of the Parks and the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois-the latter a group that Lohan had a hand in founding in the 1960s. The suit, which is on appeal and may or may not have been decided by the time this article is published, challenges the legality of using public money for the benefit of a private company. That company, of course, is the Chicago Bears, the primary tenant of the stadium for the past 30 years and the entity that hired both Lohan and his partner in the joint venture, the Boston-based architecture firm of Wood & Zapata.

“It’s going to be an ultramodern stadium within the walls of the traditional structure,” says Lohan, sounding alternately baffled and exasperated. “Why is that so bad? Why does that upset people?”

To understand how Lohan has wound up on the opposite side from the friends and groups he has spent a lifetime supporting, one needs to understand what Soldier Field means to him and why he wanted to be part of it in the first place.

* * *

Lohan’s involvement with the lakefront goes back to the early 1980s when he did a much-heralded study for the three museums in Burnham Park-the Field Museum, the Shedd, and the Adler-that advocated moving Lake Shore Drive to the west and creating a museum campus. Much of this plan was subsequently enacted, though not by Lohan. When the city finally undertook the construction of the campus in the mid-1990s, it used Teng & Associates, another Chicago planning and architecture firm with ties to the city’s Department of Transportation, which ultimately wound up funding the project.

The Soldier Field project-which involves installing a massive new seating bowl within the neoclassical colonnades of the original stadium as well as reshaping and resculpting 19 acres of new parkland from the Field Museum to McCormick Place-was Lohan’s chance to put his personal stamp on a part of Chicago he had spent years thinking and talking about. So when the Bears-or, rather, Ben Wood, one of the principals of Wood & Zapata-came calling in early 1999 with an offer to collaborate on the project, Lohan was happy to sign on.

Paradoxically, given all the calumny that has been heaped on him, Lohan actually had very little to do with the design of the stadium. “We have a joint venture that is roughly 50-50,” he says. “Because Wood & Zapata had done preliminary work and knew more about stadiums than we did, they were given primary responsibility for the stadium. We were given responsibility for the infrastructure and planning work.”

“The seminal idea, the form, the shape and the asymmetry, and the fact that it fits between the colonnades originated with my office,” says Wood. “What Dirk brought to the table was a very good understanding of how important the waterfront is to Chicago.”

 

That and the keys to the public purse, according to the Bears. “When we came to terms with the design,” says Ted Phillips, the president of the Bears, “the issue became: What does the city need to make this a viable project? And that’s when Dirk got involved. He understands the permitting process, the building process; he knows the people and the politics. I don’t think we ever would have gotten a stadium at this site without the park improvements. What happened is, it became apparent to us that we weren’t going to be able to privately finance the stadium. So when we were able to come up with a much grander and more encompassing plan that included the park, it became the basis for a public/private partnership.”

The Bears also received the implicit endorsement of an architect who not only had built successfully on the lakefront but also had impressive connections at City Hall. “Politically, my partner [Carlos Zapata] and I are virtual unknowns,” says Wood. “Mayor Daley basically said he had no interest in ever meeting the architects from Boston. I was told that it was better to let Dirk handle those contacts.”

Some see an almost Faustian bargain here. “They used Dirk as a patsy for the guys in Boston,” says Buenz. “They’re using his reputation to push it through.”

Lohan rejects this reasoning. “I like the design very much,” he says. “We brainstormed this whole thing and decided to do a contemporary stadium that has all the features and qualities of a new stadium but retains the old façade and colonnades. The fact that the seating bowl is so high and reaches over the colonnades is something that is the direct result of the geometry of the sightlines that are now required for stadiums. That makes the slope of the seating shell the way it is.”

Does that mean aesthetics were sacrificed for sightlines? Not necessarily, says Lohan. “It’s almost like designing a train engine or a ship. They have basic functional requirements that have to be fulfilled. But you always think about what it looks like. It’s what architecture is all about.”

To some degree, Lohan believes that he is the victim of a conservative, retrograde movement in Chicago and in the country generally. “There is this feeling that old things are good things and that the new and the novel are scary,” he says. “I’m turned on by modern, new, innovative things. The issue of how to modernize in a functional way an old building is an eternal architectural question. I’m sure that when they started building Gothic additions to Romanesque cathedrals in the Middle Ages, there were people who said, ‘My God, they’re ruining everything.’”

 

Not that Lohan considers Soldier Field to be Chicago’s Rheims or Chartres. Far from it. “I would never say that Soldier Field is an architectural landmark,” he insists. “Nobody has copied it; nobody has learned from it. People like it for nostalgic reasons. They remember the games and parades and tractor pulls and veterans’ affairs they’ve seen there over the years.”

To sum up, he says: “I wouldn’t do this if it were the Parthenon. But this isn’t the Parthenon.”

Those are fighting words to his critics. Sifting through the accumulated Tribune articles about Soldier Field in the past two years is like looking at Blair Kamin’s blood pressure chart. Kamin endorsed the project-albeit with several major reservations-when it was first unveiled in November 2000. “I’ll venture the judgment,” he wrote, “that the pluses seem to outweigh the minuses in the Bears’ plan.”

His position quickly hardened, however, when the Bears refused to address those reservations, notably by adjusting the height of the seating bowl. The succeeding headlines tell the story: “Soldier Field Plan: On Further Review, the Play Stinks” (April 5, 2001), “The Monstrosity of the Midway” (June 11, 2001), “A Tale of Hungry Bears and White Elephants” (July 11, 2001). He was joined by the Tribune’s editorial page, which went into overdrive as the year progressed. Sample editorials: “Stadium Design: Mistake by the Lake” (March 14, 2001), “Soldier Field: Perfuming the Pig” (June 6, 2001), “Blood Money and the Bears” (July 15, 2001), “The Soldier Field Train Wreck” (December 17, 2001). There were also numerous other derisive mentions of the project, including Kamin’s decision to publish a photo collage created by the architect Stanley Tigerman that depicted the new stadium as a gigantic fruit bowl. “Critics of the Bears’ plan have predicted that Soldier Field’s gargantuan new seating bowl will be the butt of endless jokes once it is built,” Kamin wrote in an article that accompanied the photo. “Tigerman’s biting work of satire proves them wrong: It already is a laughingstock.”

“Dirk and I had an interview with Blair Kamin even before the stadium got funded,” says Wood. “We met with him, showed him the design, and I could tell then-he’s a purist; he’s one of those people who think those colonnades need to be standing there without anything in front of them, behind them, or below them. Why he puts that much importance on those things I have no idea.”

Kamin, of course, has explained why he feels that way on numerous occasions. “It’s a nightmare,” he told The New York Times last spring. “The campus is a classical ensemble that was carefully put together. Now you have an aggressively modern sculptural form being shoved inside the columns of the stadium that radically alters the character of the ensemble.”

The ferocity of Kamin’s attack, however, took Lohan by surprise. “I knew the Friends of the Parks would be an issue because they had, over the years, taken positions against the Bears’ playing in Soldier Field,” he says. “But I never thought the Tribune would react the way it did. It was something I couldn’t anticipate, particularly since Blair and I have had a nice relationship, and I think he respects me and I respect him. I give him every right to criticize what I do architecturally, but this went beyond that. This was a vendetta, a campaign to stop the project. It became so personal. And it’s definitely shaken me up.”

Kamin denies this, but doesn’t really want to talk about it. “I’ve pretty much said my piece,” he explains, “and everyone knows where I stand.”

 

In the middle of all this-in a classic example of everything going wrong simultaneously-Lohan’s personal life started unraveling when his third wife, the former Pamela Stone, filed for divorce.

Lohan’s often stormy romantic history has kept the Chicago architecture community buzzing for decades. “An awful lot of women have been attracted to him over the years,” says Franz Schulze, Mies’s biographer and a longtime family friend.

His first wife, Heidemarie Schaefer, was the daughter of a wealthy German industrialist. They had two children-Lars and Caroline-but divorced in 1972 after 13 years of marriage. His second marriage, to the architect Diane Legge, lasted from 1979 to 1989. He married Pamela Stone-the former daughter-in-law of the late insurance magnate W. Clement Stone-in 1991. They have one child, a son, eight-year-old Carsten.

Lohan seems paralyzed when he discusses his most recent marital flameout. “I don’t know what to say about it,” he admits. “It certainly is one of my disappointments. I think of myself as precise, sometimes demanding, but also always conciliatory and willing to work things out. But you need two people to agree to work things out and that didn’t happen.”
It’s safe to say that fighting with the press and opposing civic and preservationist groups while negotiating custody arrangements with yet another estranged spouse is not how Lohan imagined he would spend his golden years. Unlike Stanley Tigerman, say, who revels in his reputation as a bomb thrower and provocateur, Lohan since he first came to this country has been thought of as the good son-or grandson, actually.

“Dirk genuinely treasures the relationship he had with his grandfather,” says Schulze. “He feels that Mies was a great man, and he, as the grandson, is obliged to preserve and carry on that legacy.”

* * *

 

Lohan was born in 1938, the first of three children and the only son of Marianne and Wolfgang Lohan. Marianne, who is 87 and lives outside of Munich, is the second daughter of Mies van der Rohe. Wolfgang Lohan, who died in 1981, was a literature and history professor. Dirk spent his early years in a small town outside of Berlin and remembers watching squadrons of American and British planes flying over the family’s house during the final days of World War II and later seeing a glow in the night sky over the city. “It was like being in Michigan City,” he says, “and seeing Chicago burning.”

After the war, Lohan’s father accepted a teaching position at a boarding school in the south of Germany. The family moved again, this time to a town outside of Munich, where Dirk finished the equivalent of high school. He then went on to study architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where Mies was teaching, and at the Technische Hochschule in Munich.

Even as a child, Lohan was fascinated by his famous grandfather. “During the forties,” Lohan recalls, “Mies sent my mother these grainy eight-by-ten photographs of 860 Lake Shore Drive, the Farnsworth House, and the buildings he was doing for IIT, and I plastered my room with them.” Chicago, Lohan says, was “this wonderful world with new things, while everything in my world was either destroyed or old and falling apart.”

Lohan moved to Chicago in 1962 and essentially became Mies’s caretaker in the final decade of his life as well as his collaborator on a number of projects, including Mies’s last and largest American commission, the IBM Building north of the Loop. “Dirk was the son Mies never had,” says Schulze.

“I spent hundreds of evenings alone with him, talking and probing and finding out about his history and what had happened to him,” says Lohan. In addition to thoroughly indoctrinating his grandson with the precepts of modern architecture, Mies also instilled more worldly lessons. “He taught me to smoke cigars and love a good martini,” says Lohan, who abandoned the former habit years ago but continues to embrace the latter.

To this day, Lohan remains extraordinarily hesitant to criticize his famous grandparent in any way. And yet, Mies was hardly an exemplar. He abandoned his wife and family when he left Germany in 1938 on the heels of the Nazi takeover and was only sporadically in touch with them during the grim years of war and destruction that followed. And even though he came to depend on his grandson toward the end of his life, his image and legacy remained more important than family connections. “There was a kind of selfish quality to Mies,” says Schulze, “at least as far as his humanistic motives were concerned.”

 

In his will, he left most of his papers and copyrights-including the rights to reproduce the Barcelona chair, probably the single most profitable design of his career-to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He also specified that his name, a prized asset at that point, be removed from the firm within five years of his death.

“Mies never really talked about people” is how Lohan justifies his grandfather’s behavior. To him, Mies was “a creative genius like Picasso” and above normal strictures. And yet, Lohan’s subsequent career in many ways amounts to a gentle rebuke of Mies’s chilly modernist directives. “To say it simply,” he remarks, “I wanted to humanize modernism.”

After Mies’s death, in 1969, Lohan carried on with two longtime Mies associates, Joe Fujikawa and Bruno Conterato, in a firm known as Fujikawa, Conterato, Lohan and Associates. Fujikawa left in 1982 and the firm eventually evolved into Lohan Associates. “There was a strategic move to change the name of the firm and promote Dirk as the cutting edge designer,” says Joe Caprile, who has worked at the firm for 21 years and is currently one of two presidents.

In its early days, the firm’s buildings were often pale imitations of Mies’s designs. That changed, however, in 1978 when the firm won a six-way architectural competition to design a new corporate headquarters for McDonald’s on 80 acres carved out of the developer Paul Butler’s old estate in suburban Oak Brook. According to Lohan, Fred Turner, then the chief executive officer of McDonald’s, told him: “I want to hire you. Not because I like your design but because I think I can work with you.”

* * *

In many ways, that statement gets to the heart of Lohan’s success. Years of catering to the aging Mies’s every order and whim left Lohan well prepared to work with the kind of older alpha males who populate boardrooms and commission much of the architecture in this country.

“Dirk has the ability to work successfully with strong leaders,” says Caprile.

“He knows how to impress clients,” says Schulze. “The client comes away feeling, Here’s a man who knows what he’s doing, is easy to get along with, and has an elegance about him.”

The complex that Lohan subsequently designed for McDonald’s consisted of three low-slung buildings situated around two interconnected lakes. The materials-mainly brick and stone-are decidedly un-Miesian. “The design is very much one of buildings in nature,” says Lohan.

 

“We developed a more holistic approach to architecture that took into account the uniqueness of the site, the zoning, and the needs of the client,” says Joe Antunovich, who oversaw the project on a day-to-day basis. “If we needed to bend a building to save a giant oak tree, we did it. We dug two enormous five-acre lakes with islands in the middle and edged them with stone from quarries in Wisconsin that had not been mined since the Jens Jensen days. The old Mies office would never have done that.”

The success of the project led to similar commissions from companies around the country and touched off a decade of growth at the firm, aided in no small part by the excellence of the design team that Lohan had recruited.

“It was a very energetic, creative, lights-never-go-out kind of place,” says Antunovich of the atmosphere in the early and mid-1980s.

By the end of the decade, however, problems were looming. Modernism was in eclipse, replaced by postmodernism, which Lohan calls “an aberration.” The last thing anyone seemed to want was more Miesian steel and glass buildings. “It was a very trying time intellectually because we were not a firm that could respond well to postmodernism,” says Joe Caprile.

Still, the firm made several stabs in that direction, including a deliberate attempt to downplay its heritage. “In the early days,” says Caprile, “we used to start our presentations to clients with a slide of a classic Mies building to demonstrate what we believed and what we were about. We stopped doing that in the postmodern period. We learned that if we showed another black box, we were in trouble.”

The furthest Lohan went in the direction of postmodernism was the new library he designed for DePaul University in the early nineties, a brick neo-Gothic affair that was the centerpiece of the school’s new campus master plan in Lincoln Park. “We swung too far with that,” he says today. He also describes it as the one building in his oeuvre that his grandfather would hate. “He would have said the medieval architects did it better, and he would have been right,” says Lohan.

The two projects that finally reoriented the firm-and in many ways were the warmup for Soldier Field-were the additions that Lohan designed in the early nineties for the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium. Both the Oceanarium and the Sky Pavilion were dramatic modern buildings that complemented the landmark structures to which they were attached without overwhelming them. Both also were smashingly successful with the critics as well as with the public. “At that point, Erma Tranter loved me,” says Lohan, referring to the formidable president of the Friends of the Parks.

So did Blair Kamin, who described the Adler’s new Sky Pavilion as “a new landmark” and “futuristic architecture that gives one faith in the future.”

* * *

 

Lohan’s mood these days is distinctly autumnal. “My hope,” he says, “is that a large part of the objection to Soldier Field will go away when it’s all done. I don’t think the public really understands what’s being done there. It’s way too big and complex.” He adds that so far the project is on budget and is expected to be finished by the opening of the Bears’ NFL season next September. “We’ll beat Millennium Park,” he says.

As for the battering by Kamin, Lohan’s tone is aggrieved but conciliatory. “Will we be friendly in the future?” he asks. “It depends on him. I would hope in the future-and I don’t know if it will happen-that there will be another project, where I would do something and he would say something nice about it.”

Regardless, Lohan seems well on the way to getting on with whatever the future holds. In a recent interview, he spoke about visiting the architect Philip Johnson, an old family friend, in New York several years ago. “Young man,” the ninety-something Johnson told him, “it’s time for you to do what you want.”

Earlier this year, the firm changed its name to Lohan Caprile Goettsch Architects. Essentially, Jim Goettsch, a former designer for Helmut Jahn who joined Lohan ten years ago, has become the lead designer. The firm also plans to relocate down Michigan Avenue from Boulevard Towers at Illinois Center to the Santa Fe building sometime after the first of the year. The move is freighted with symbolism. Mies himself did the master plan for Illinois Center, while the predecessor firm of Lohan Associates designed many of the austere black box buildings that make up the complex. The Santa Fe building, on the other hand, is a lavish Daniel Burnham creation from a much earlier period that delights in ornament and detail-a predilection shared by Goettsch.

In the future, while not retiring, Lohan plans to concentrate on philanthropic work and on his career as a gentleman farmer on his 200-acre estate east of Three Oaks, the Hamptons-like outpost in western Michigan. “When I cross the border into Michigan, I breathe easier,” he says. “At this point, whether it’s personal or professional, I have a strong desire for peace.”

This story was originally published in the November 2002 issue of Chicago.

“When I was young,” says Dirk Lohan, “my heart used to palpitate when I went to a building site.” He is looking around Soldier Field, where hundreds of construction workers are engaged in the largest renovation project the venerable stadium has undergone since it opened in 1924. Then he pauses for a moment.

“It’s not the same now,” he says. “I’m older. But this is still a very big project.”

To put it mildly. The $606-million renovation of Soldier Field-$632 million, if you accept the Chicago Tribune’s figures-is easily the largest project Lohan has undertaken in an architecture career that has spanned 40 years and has included everything from highly praised additions for the nearby Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium to lucrative corporate commissions for some of the biggest companies in America: McDonald’s, TRW, Frito-Lay, and Ameritech.

Soldier Field is the 64-year-old Lohan’s bid to join the ranks of Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jens Jensen, and the other creators of what is usually regarded as the city’s most distinctive feature-the lakefront.

It is also his chance to leave a definitive mark on a city where he is still better known for his family connections-he is the grandson of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the most influential architect of the past century-than for his own considerable achievements.

“The lakefront is the sacred cow of the city,” says Lohan. “It deserves to be improved as time goes on. But nobody wants to ruin it or kill it. It’s untouchable.”

Lohan is here on this muggy August afternoon to give a reporter a tour and perhaps garner some favorable publicity for a project that can definitely use it. Over the past two years, Soldier Field has become the city’s most controversial lakefront construction project since the first Mayor Daley-with the full support of the Tribune-approved the construction of McCormick Place in 1960.

That was then, however. This time around, the Tribune is throwing its weight in the opposite direction. Leading the way has been Blair Kamin, the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize–winning architecture critic and someone Lohan once counted as a friend. There have been dozens of articles by Kamin and by other writers and columnists attacking the project as an aesthetic, political, and financial nightmare.

Seldom, in fact, has a project received such universally negative reviews. In addition to a groundswell of criticism by civic and preservation groups, the architecture community has been withering in its comments. “It’s a travesty,” says John Buenz, a principal with Solomon Cordwell Buenz & Associates. “A fiasco,” says Stanley Tigerman. Even Joseph Antunovich, Lohan’s right-hand man for many years until he left to found his own firm in the early nineties, is dismissive. “Somewhere along the way the planning got misguided,” Antunovich says.

 

The project has also provoked a lawsuit by the Friends of the Parks and the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois-the latter a group that Lohan had a hand in founding in the 1960s. The suit, which is on appeal and may or may not have been decided by the time this article is published, challenges the legality of using public money for the benefit of a private company. That company, of course, is the Chicago Bears, the primary tenant of the stadium for the past 30 years and the entity that hired both Lohan and his partner in the joint venture, the Boston-based architecture firm of Wood & Zapata.

“It’s going to be an ultramodern stadium within the walls of the traditional structure,” says Lohan, sounding alternately baffled and exasperated. “Why is that so bad? Why does that upset people?”

To understand how Lohan has wound up on the opposite side from the friends and groups he has spent a lifetime supporting, one needs to understand what Soldier Field means to him and why he wanted to be part of it in the first place.

* * *

Lohan’s involvement with the lakefront goes back to the early 1980s when he did a much-heralded study for the three museums in Burnham Park-the Field Museum, the Shedd, and the Adler-that advocated moving Lake Shore Drive to the west and creating a museum campus. Much of this plan was subsequently enacted, though not by Lohan. When the city finally undertook the construction of the campus in the mid-1990s, it used Teng & Associates, another Chicago planning and architecture firm with ties to the city’s Department of Transportation, which ultimately wound up funding the project.

The Soldier Field project-which involves installing a massive new seating bowl within the neoclassical colonnades of the original stadium as well as reshaping and resculpting 19 acres of new parkland from the Field Museum to McCormick Place-was Lohan’s chance to put his personal stamp on a part of Chicago he had spent years thinking and talking about. So when the Bears-or, rather, Ben Wood, one of the principals of Wood & Zapata-came calling in early 1999 with an offer to collaborate on the project, Lohan was happy to sign on.

Paradoxically, given all the calumny that has been heaped on him, Lohan actually had very little to do with the design of the stadium. “We have a joint venture that is roughly 50-50,” he says. “Because Wood & Zapata had done preliminary work and knew more about stadiums than we did, they were given primary responsibility for the stadium. We were given responsibility for the infrastructure and planning work.”

“The seminal idea, the form, the shape and the asymmetry, and the fact that it fits between the colonnades originated with my office,” says Wood. “What Dirk brought to the table was a very good understanding of how important the waterfront is to Chicago.”

That and the keys to the public purse, according to the Bears. “When we came to terms with the design,” says Ted Phillips, the president of the Bears, “the issue became: What does the city need to make this a viable project? And that’s when Dirk got involved. He understands the permitting process, the building process; he knows the people and the politics. I don’t think we ever would have gotten a stadium at this site without the park improvements. What happened is, it became apparent to us that we weren’t going to be able to privately finance the stadium. So when we were able to come up with a much grander and more encompassing plan that included the park, it became the basis for a public/private partnership.”

 

The Bears also received the implicit endorsement of an architect who not only had built successfully on the lakefront but also had impressive connections at City Hall. “Politically, my partner [Carlos Zapata] and I are virtual unknowns,” says Wood. “Mayor Daley basically said he had no interest in ever meeting the architects from Boston. I was told that it was better to let Dirk handle those contacts.”

Some see an almost Faustian bargain here. “They used Dirk as a patsy for the guys in Boston,” says Buenz. “They’re using his reputation to push it through.”

Lohan rejects this reasoning. “I like the design very much,” he says. “We brainstormed this whole thing and decided to do a contemporary stadium that has all the features and qualities of a new stadium but retains the old façade and colonnades. The fact that the seating bowl is so high and reaches over the colonnades is something that is the direct result of the geometry of the sightlines that are now required for stadiums. That makes the slope of the seating shell the way it is.”

Does that mean aesthetics were sacrificed for sightlines? Not necessarily, says Lohan. “It’s almost like designing a train engine or a ship. They have basic functional requirements that have to be fulfilled. But you always think about what it looks like. It’s what architecture is all about.”

To some degree, Lohan believes that he is the victim of a conservative, retrograde movement in Chicago and in the country generally. “There is this feeling that old things are good things and that the new and the novel are scary,” he says. “I’m turned on by modern, new, innovative things. The issue of how to modernize in a functional way an old building is an eternal architectural question. I’m sure that when they started building Gothic additions to Romanesque cathedrals in the Middle Ages, there were people who said, ‘My God, they’re ruining everything.’”

Not that Lohan considers Soldier Field to be Chicago’s Rheims or Chartres. Far from it. “I would never say that Soldier Field is an architectural landmark,” he insists. “Nobody has copied it; nobody has learned from it. People like it for nostalgic reasons. They remember the games and parades and tractor pulls and veterans’ affairs they’ve seen there over the years.”

To sum up, he says: “I wouldn’t do this if it were the Parthenon. But this isn’t the Parthenon.”

Those are fighting words to his critics. Sifting through the accumulated Tribune articles about Soldier Field in the past two years is like looking at Blair Kamin’s blood pressure chart. Kamin endorsed the project-albeit with several major reservations-when it was first unveiled in November 2000. “I’ll venture the judgment,” he wrote, “that the pluses seem to outweigh the minuses in the Bears’ plan.”

His position quickly hardened, however, when the Bears refused to address those reservations, notably by adjusting the height of the seating bowl. The succeeding headlines tell the story: “Soldier Field Plan: On Further Review, the Play Stinks” (April 5, 2001), “The Monstrosity of the Midway” (June 11, 2001), “A Tale of Hungry Bears and White Elephants” (July 11, 2001). He was joined by the Tribune’s editorial page, which went into overdrive as the year progressed. Sample editorials: “Stadium Design: Mistake by the Lake” (March 14, 2001), “Soldier Field: Perfuming the Pig” (June 6, 2001), “Blood Money and the Bears” (July 15, 2001), “The Soldier Field Train Wreck” (December 17, 2001). There were also numerous other derisive mentions of the project, including Kamin’s decision to publish a photo collage created by the architect Stanley Tigerman that depicted the new stadium as a gigantic fruit bowl. “Critics of the Bears’ plan have predicted that Soldier Field’s gargantuan new seating bowl will be the butt of endless jokes once it is built,” Kamin wrote in an article that accompanied the photo. “Tigerman’s biting work of satire proves them wrong: It already is a laughingstock.”

 

“Dirk and I had an interview with Blair Kamin even before the stadium got funded,” says Wood. “We met with him, showed him the design, and I could tell then-he’s a purist; he’s one of those people who think those colonnades need to be standing there without anything in front of them, behind them, or below them. Why he puts that much importance on those things I have no idea.”

Kamin, of course, has explained why he feels that way on numerous occasions. “It’s a nightmare,” he told The New York Times last spring. “The campus is a classical ensemble that was carefully put together. Now you have an aggressively modern sculptural form being shoved inside the columns of the stadium that radically alters the character of the ensemble.”

The ferocity of Kamin’s attack, however, took Lohan by surprise. “I knew the Friends of the Parks would be an issue because they had, over the years, taken positions against the Bears’ playing in Soldier Field,” he says. “But I never thought the Tribune would react the way it did. It was something I couldn’t anticipate, particularly since Blair and I have had a nice relationship, and I think he respects me and I respect him. I give him every right to criticize what I do architecturally, but this went beyond that. This was a vendetta, a campaign to stop the project. It became so personal. And it’s definitely shaken me up.”

Kamin denies this, but doesn’t really want to talk about it. “I’ve pretty much said my piece,” he explains, “and everyone knows where I stand.”

In the middle of all this-in a classic example of everything going wrong simultaneously-Lohan’s personal life started unraveling when his third wife, the former Pamela Stone, filed for divorce.

Lohan’s often stormy romantic history has kept the Chicago architecture community buzzing for decades. “An awful lot of women have been attracted to him over the years,” says Franz Schulze, Mies’s biographer and a longtime family friend.

His first wife, Heidemarie Schaefer, was the daughter of a wealthy German industrialist. They had two children-Lars and Caroline-but divorced in 1972 after 13 years of marriage. His second marriage, to the architect Diane Legge, lasted from 1979 to 1989. He married Pamela Stone-the former daughter-in-law of the late insurance magnate W. Clement Stone-in 1991. They have one child, a son, eight-year-old Carsten.

Lohan seems paralyzed when he discusses his most recent marital flameout. “I don’t know what to say about it,” he admits. “It certainly is one of my disappointments. I think of myself as precise, sometimes demanding, but also always conciliatory and willing to work things out. But you need two people to agree to work things out and that didn’t happen.”
It’s safe to say that fighting with the press and opposing civic and preservationist groups while negotiating custody arrangements with yet another estranged spouse is not how Lohan imagined he would spend his golden years. Unlike Stanley Tigerman, say, who revels in his reputation as a bomb thrower and provocateur, Lohan since he first came to this country has been thought of as the good son-or grandson, actually.

“Dirk genuinely treasures the relationship he had with his grandfather,” says Schulze. “He feels that Mies was a great man, and he, as the grandson, is obliged to preserve and carry on that legacy.”

* * *

 

Lohan was born in 1938, the first of three children and the only son of Marianne and Wolfgang Lohan. Marianne, who is 87 and lives outside of Munich, is the second daughter of Mies van der Rohe. Wolfgang Lohan, who died in 1981, was a literature and history professor. Dirk spent his early years in a small town outside of Berlin and remembers watching squadrons of American and British planes flying over the family’s house during the final days of World War II and later seeing a glow in the night sky over the city. “It was like being in Michigan City,” he says, “and seeing Chicago burning.”

After the war, Lohan’s father accepted a teaching position at a boarding school in the south of Germany. The family moved again, this time to a town outside of Munich, where Dirk finished the equivalent of high school. He then went on to study architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where Mies was teaching, and at the Technische Hochschule in Munich.

Even as a child, Lohan was fascinated by his famous grandfather. “During the forties,” Lohan recalls, “Mies sent my mother these grainy eight-by-ten photographs of 860 Lake Shore Drive, the Farnsworth House, and the buildings he was doing for IIT, and I plastered my room with them.” Chicago, Lohan says, was “this wonderful world with new things, while everything in my world was either destroyed or old and falling apart.”

Lohan moved to Chicago in 1962 and essentially became Mies’s caretaker in the final decade of his life as well as his collaborator on a number of projects, including Mies’s last and largest American commission, the IBM Building north of the Loop. “Dirk was the son Mies never had,” says Schulze.

“I spent hundreds of evenings alone with him, talking and probing and finding out about his history and what had happened to him,” says Lohan. In addition to thoroughly indoctrinating his grandson with the precepts of modern architecture, Mies also instilled more worldly lessons. “He taught me to smoke cigars and love a good martini,” says Lohan, who abandoned the former habit years ago but continues to embrace the latter.

To this day, Lohan remains extraordinarily hesitant to criticize his famous grandparent in any way. And yet, Mies was hardly an exemplar. He abandoned his wife and family when he left Germany in 1938 on the heels of the Nazi takeover and was only sporadically in touch with them during the grim years of war and destruction that followed. And even though he came to depend on his grandson toward the end of his life, his image and legacy remained more important than family connections. “There was a kind of selfish quality to Mies,” says Schulze, “at least as far as his humanistic motives were concerned.”

In his will, he left most of his papers and copyrights-including the rights to reproduce the Barcelona chair, probably the single most profitable design of his career-to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He also specified that his name, a prized asset at that point, be removed from the firm within five years of his death.

“Mies never really talked about people” is how Lohan justifies his grandfather’s behavior. To him, Mies was “a creative genius like Picasso” and above normal strictures. And yet, Lohan’s subsequent career in many ways amounts to a gentle rebuke of Mies’s chilly modernist directives. “To say it simply,” he remarks, “I wanted to humanize modernism.”

After Mies’s death, in 1969, Lohan carried on with two longtime Mies associates, Joe Fujikawa and Bruno Conterato, in a firm known as Fujikawa, Conterato, Lohan and Associates. Fujikawa left in 1982 and the firm eventually evolved into Lohan Associates. “There was a strategic move to change the name of the firm and promote Dirk as the cutting edge designer,” says Joe Caprile, who has worked at the firm for 21 years and is currently one of two presidents.

In its early days, the firm’s buildings were often pale imitations of Mies’s designs. That changed, however, in 1978 when the firm won a six-way architectural competition to design a new corporate headquarters for McDonald’s on 80 acres carved out of the developer Paul Butler’s old estate in suburban Oak Brook. According to Lohan, Fred Turner, then the chief executive officer of McDonald’s, told him: “I want to hire you. Not because I like your design but because I think I can work with you.”

* * *

 

In many ways, that statement gets to the heart of Lohan’s success. Years of catering to the aging Mies’s every order and whim left Lohan well prepared to work with the kind of older alpha males who populate boardrooms and commission much of the architecture in this country.

“Dirk has the ability to work successfully with strong leaders,” says Caprile.

“He knows how to impress clients,” says Schulze. “The client comes away feeling, Here’s a man who knows what he’s doing, is easy to get along with, and has an elegance about him.”

The complex that Lohan subsequently designed for McDonald’s consisted of three low-slung buildings situated around two interconnected lakes. The materials-mainly brick and stone-are decidedly un-Miesian. “The design is very much one of buildings in nature,” says Lohan.

“We developed a more holistic approach to architecture that took into account the uniqueness of the site, the zoning, and the needs of the client,” says Joe Antunovich, who oversaw the project on a day-to-day basis. “If we needed to bend a building to save a giant oak tree, we did it. We dug two enormous five-acre lakes with islands in the middle and edged them with stone from quarries in Wisconsin that had not been mined since the Jens Jensen days. The old Mies office would never have done that.”

The success of the project led to similar commissions from companies around the country and touched off a decade of growth at the firm, aided in no small part by the excellence of the design team that Lohan had recruited.

“It was a very energetic, creative, lights-never-go-out kind of place,” says Antunovich of the atmosphere in the early and mid-1980s.

By the end of the decade, however, problems were looming. Modernism was in eclipse, replaced by postmodernism, which Lohan calls “an aberration.” The last thing anyone seemed to want was more Miesian steel and glass buildings. “It was a very trying time intellectually because we were not a firm that could respond well to postmodernism,” says Joe Caprile.

Still, the firm made several stabs in that direction, including a deliberate attempt to downplay its heritage. “In the early days,” says Caprile, “we used to start our presentations to clients with a slide of a classic Mies building to demonstrate what we believed and what we were about. We stopped doing that in the postmodern period. We learned that if we showed another black box, we were in trouble.”

The furthest Lohan went in the direction of postmodernism was the new library he designed for DePaul University in the early nineties, a brick neo-Gothic affair that was the centerpiece of the school’s new campus master plan in Lincoln Park. “We swung too far with that,” he says today. He also describes it as the one building in his oeuvre that his grandfather would hate. “He would have said the medieval architects did it better, and he would have been right,” says Lohan.

The two projects that finally reoriented the firm-and in many ways were the warmup for Soldier Field-were the additions that Lohan designed in the early nineties for the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium. Both the Oceanarium and the Sky Pavilion were dramatic modern buildings that complemented the landmark structures to which they were attached without overwhelming them. Both also were smashingly successful with the critics as well as with the public. “At that point, Erma Tranter loved me,” says Lohan, referring to the formidable president of the Friends of the Parks.

So did Blair Kamin, who described the Adler’s new Sky Pavilion as “a new landmark” and “futuristic architecture that gives one faith in the future.”

* * *

Lohan’s mood these days is distinctly autumnal. “My hope,” he says, “is that a large part of the objection to Soldier Field will go away when it’s all done. I don’t think the public really understands what’s being done there. It’s way too big and complex.” He adds that so far the project is on budget and is expected to be finished by the opening of the Bears’ NFL season next September. “We’ll beat Millennium Park,” he says.

As for the battering by Kamin, Lohan’s tone is aggrieved but conciliatory. “Will we be friendly in the future?” he asks. “It depends on him. I would hope in the future-and I don’t know if it will happen-that there will be another project, where I would do something and he would say something nice about it.”

Regardless, Lohan seems well on the way to getting on with whatever the future holds. In a recent interview, he spoke about visiting the architect Philip Johnson, an old family friend, in New York several years ago. “Young man,” the ninety-something Johnson told him, “it’s time for you to do what you want.”

Earlier this year, the firm changed its name to Lohan Caprile Goettsch Architects. Essentially, Jim Goettsch, a former designer for Helmut Jahn who joined Lohan ten years ago, has become the lead designer. The firm also plans to relocate down Michigan Avenue from Boulevard Towers at Illinois Center to the Santa Fe building sometime after the first of the year. The move is freighted with symbolism. Mies himself did the master plan for Illinois Center, while the predecessor firm of Lohan Associates designed many of the austere black box buildings that make up the complex. The Santa Fe building, on the other hand, is a lavish Daniel Burnham creation from a much earlier period that delights in ornament and detail-a predilection shared by Goettsch.

In the future, while not retiring, Lohan plans to concentrate on philanthropic work and on his career as a gentleman farmer on his 200-acre estate east of Three Oaks, the Hamptons-like outpost in western Michigan. “When I cross the border into Michigan, I breathe easier,” he says. “At this point, whether it’s personal or professional, I have a strong desire for peace.”

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