Northwestern Welcomes New Athletic Fieldhouse

When the Northwestern University Wildcats prepare for the upcoming college football season, they’ll be conducting their drills in a new state-of-the-art athletic complex overlooking Lake Michigan.

The multipurpose Ryan Fieldhouse and Walter Athletics Center, a 420,000-square-foot building in Evanston, Illinois, will serve as the practice facility for the university’s football, basketball and soccer teams. It houses a full-sized football practice field, two sports performance facilities, three basketball courts, locker rooms and offices for the university athletic department.

“This facility provides a new indoor sports training facility for the Northwestern football and other athletic teams and activities,” said Randy Herbstman, project manager for WSP USA. “It will serve as an event space for the university, and as a recruiting tool for all sports teams to demonstrate Northwestern’s commitment to providing first-class facilities to its students.”

WSP worked with Perkins + Will, the lead architect, to provide the structural engineering, design and construction administration services on behalf of Northwestern University. Design of the facility began in April 2014, and construction started in January 2016. Although Wilson Field was opened for practices by the Wildcats football team last December, construction of the remainder of the facility continued through this month.

“WSP delivered an efficient and unique design that met the aesthetic goals and requirements of the architect,” Herbstman said. “We provided a lot of coordination services and assisted the rest of the design and construction team to meet the very fast construction schedule.”


Wilson Field was opened for practices by the Northwestern Wildcats football team last December. Players will return to their new practice facility as they prepare for the upcoming college football season.

Second-Floor Field

The $180 million project uses a dozen 246-foot-long box tube arches over the field to create a functional and beautiful space. The lakeside face of the football field has a 42-foot wall of glass laterally braced back to the arches and kinked arm braces supporting the edge of the roof.

“The tall glass walls provide an amazing view of the lakefront from inside the building and show off the facilities from the outside,” Herbstman said.

Each of the box tube arches is formed from 20-by-36-inch curved box tubes of varying wall thicknesses. The profiles of the arches were carefully planned to fit the sports requirements and stay within the strict roof height requirements of the City of Evanston.

The arch erection involved a complex process that began with the prefabrication of two parallel segments of the six arches installed into the building. The horizontal beams segments were then lifted into place and connected to the rafters. The sequence to install the arches required six sequences and took an entire day—and had to be carefully coordinated with the prevailing winds off the lake.

Extensive Collaboration

Efficiently designing and constructing long-span structures in an efficient manner demanded some creative solutions. The field was raised off the ground floor to allow space between the beach and the building face for vehicle traffic. This required the north side of the arch to be supported on a cantilevered support beam.

“We had a very small site for what the program demanded, and that required us to elevate the football field to the second floor of the complex, then cantilever the support for the north side of the field,” Herbstman said. “We also had to do it within a very fast construction schedule to provide early occupancy of the football field.”

The raised football field created the opportunity to install the two basketball courts and other recreational athletic facilities in the basement.

There was extensive collaboration between WSP and the architect on the fully exposed roof connections to achieve the aesthetic requirements set by the architect and the owner.

“We worked very closely with the steel fabricator and connection engineer to optimize and simplify the roof beam connections and arch connections,” Herbstman said. “The project gave us experience optimizing arched structures, as well as collaborating on the construction of a long-span roof.”


Ryan Fieldhouse and Walter Athletics Center is a new 420,000-square-foot athletic complex at Northwestern University overlooking Lake Michigan.

Ready for Kickoff

Although the structure is complete, some interior work is continuing and the contractor will likely be on site throughout the summer to finish up details and assist in the fit out of the building.

The building, however, has already been earning industry accolades. It was honored in June by the Structural Engineer Association of Illinois Distinguished with a 2018 Structural Engineering Award, winning the Best Project Award for a project valued over $150 million. The building’s seawall, designed by the SmithGroup JJR, won a Concrete International Decorative Concrete Award.

Herbstman, who is an alumnus of Northwestern University, was thrilled to have an opportunity to help his alma mater.

“This was a fantastic project to work on,” he said. “It is a beautiful example of an architect expressing the structure to create a unique building. And as a Northwestern University alumni, it feels good to create a permanent mark on the campus.”

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