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Buildings to Bookend Notre Dame Stadium

The Campus Crossroads project at Notre Dame will fit three new academic and student services buildings directly around the perimeter of iconic Notre Dame Stadium
The Campus Crossroads project at Notre Dame will fit three new academic and student services buildings directly around the perimeter of iconic Notre Dame Stadium, transforming the stadium into a center for education as well as football. Courtesy of University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame will add classrooms and student recreation facilities to its campus without expanding its footprint by appending three new structures onto its highly regarded football stadium.

March 4, 2014—Football began at Notre Dame University in 1887, and it’s fair to say the sport has been an institution at the college for nearly a century—at least since the arrival of legendary coach Knute Rockne. In 13 seasons, between 1918 and 1930, Rockne won 105 games and three national championships. Oh, and he helped popularize a minor wrinkle called the forward pass.

Between Ronald Reagan’s famous “Win one for the Gipper” speech in Knute Rockne, All American, or Sean Astin’s lovable underdog just trying to make the team in Rudy, the Fighting Irish are as emblematic of college football as it gets. (Is there any other stadium in America that faces a 132-ft tall religious mural that has gained the sobriquet Touchdown Jesus?)

Rockne also was the driving force behind the construction of Notre Dame Stadium, which opened in 1930. (Rockne was killed in a plane crash just one year later.) The original stadium contained 54,000 seats, stood 45 ft high, measured half a mile in circumference, and featured a glass-enclosed press box 60 ft high. The stadium expanded in the mid-1990s to its current seating capacity of more than 80,000.

Now the stadium is poised to become not only the heart of Notre Dame’s athletic life, but its academic life as well. Announced earlier this year, Campus Crossroads is a $400-million project that, according to the university, will include more than 750,000 sq ft of new classrooms, as well as research, meeting, and event space. The facilities will be housed in three new buildings attached to the west, east, and south sides of the iconic football stadium.

Unlike a lot of other college stadiums, Notre Dame’s is located near the center of the campus. The school’s busiest classroom building is right next door, and other important academic centers, including the business school, law school, and arts and letters and engineering departments are nearby. “We wish to keep Notre Dame a highly walkable campus and avoid sprawl,” says Doug Marsh, an associate vice president of the university and the university architect. So when officials began contemplating the need for new space for several departments and functions, their thoughts turned to the land that immediately surrounds the stadium.

“It occurred to us as campus planners that the best sites for these kinds of functions was this land that is contiguous to the stadium,” Marsh continues. “It currently is not active space but rather an unfriendly compilation of asphalt and concrete.”

Right now the stadium is used only a handful of times a year, and the windswept landscape surrounding it lacks a human scale. “It’s just not utilized well,” he says. “This will take huge advantage of otherwise dead space,” he says, enable that space to be “activated every single day of the year.” 

 Rendering of some premium seats inside of Notre Dame Stadium cantilevered from the planned east building

 Some 3,000 to 4,000 premium seats for Notre Dame Stadium
cantilevered from the planned east building, above, and west
building. Terraces will adorn each building and offer additional
playing field, as well as of the campus.
Courtesy of University
of Notre Dame

Last May, the university launched a study of the feasibility of expanding the uses of the stadium, which officials describe as a “sleeping giant throughout much of the year.” Other consultants included Barton Malow, a Michigan-based construction firm serving as the design/builder; the architecture firm S/L/A/M Collaborative, a Connecticut-based architecture firm that has worked on other campus projects, and Kansas City-based stadium designers 360 Architects. Other designers involved in the project include RATIO Architects, based in Indianapolis, and Workshop Architects of Milwaukee.

The plan that the designers came up with features three new buildings, one at the west, east, and south side of the stadium, respectively. The west building will expand the university’s “student life services,” with a recreation and sports facility, space for student organizations, and student lounges. The east building will become home to the anthropology and psychology departments, as well as a state-of-the-art digital media center, and the south building will host the Department of Music and the Sacred Music program.

The new buildings will be integrated with the stadium. Roughly 3,000 to 4,000 premium seats for the stadium will be folded into the east and west buildings. Terraces will adorn each building, offering views of the campus and the playing field. A ballroom covering two levels of the west building will host campus events and also provide views to both the field and the campus.

According to the university, the press box will move from the west side to the east side of the stadium and the west box will be replaced with additional seating. On the south side, a new scoreboard is planned, as well as a redesign of Frank Leahy Gate, one of the entrances to the stadium. (The gate will be extended through the south building and will still be identifiable, Marsh says, as one of the stadium’s five public entrances.) Fans will also enjoy modernized concession facilities and improved broadband coverage.

“I think this is probably the extreme that we’ve seen designed and planned from a university perspective, to really create an element around the stadium,” says Neal Morton, a project director with Barton Malow. Barton Malow has worked on other major college football stadiums, including the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and Michigan Stadium. “You have seen singular elements at some other universities around the country, where they try to incorporate one element, but I have not seen a university include this much academic space and student services space in and around [a] stadium.”

The renderings of the buildings suggest a series of carefully articulated forms in a language compatible with the university’s brick and limestone aesthetic. “They’re really conceptual at this point,” says Marsh. “We’ve done a lot of design work,” he says, though the final results may vary somewhat. “The height and scale of these buildings doesn’t automatically lend itself to the purest form of collegiate gothic,” he explains. “We’ve taken our cues in the massing and the detailing from the original Rockne stadium that still resides inside the outer bowl.”

Inside the stadium gates, visitors are faced with the outer wall of the original stadium, which contains, Marsh says, well-proportioned and well-designed detailing. He says that detailing has influenced the design of the triple windows in each bay that span between the piers and create a rhythm across the new building’s facades. “The new buildings will recall much of that architectural heritage,” he says.

A ring added in the 1990s, when the seating bowl was expanded by 21 rows, was not designed to carry any loads associated with these new structures. So at the sixth level of the new sidelines structure there will be a combination of a structural floor with large, floor-high 16 ft deep trusses. This level will house mechanical functions. The top three levels will cantilever from these trusses into the east and west buildings.

The new buildings are meant to create a seamless visual connection, especially from inside the bowl. The east and west buildings will each rise about 130 ft. “There are many beautiful and traditional aspects to Notre Dame Stadium from a fan’s perspective, especially the purity of the bowl,” says Marsh. “It’s uninterrupted, and it’s going to continue to be that way. The new structures will not overhang the bowl. Instead, they’ll begin at the edge of the parapet wall at the upper level and continue up.”

The university doesn’t want the new buildings to intrude upon the fan experience. “We’ve chamfered corners and set them back in an effort to reduce their scale and avoid the potential for them to feel overpowering,” Marsh says. The sidelines structures will not be as long as fans might find at other stadiums, he adds.

Construction will begin within the next two years—Morton anticipates beginning November 23, after next season’s final home game—and is scheduled to be substantially complete by August 2017.



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