By Michele Zimmerman
When Halas Hall (Lake Forest, IL), headquarters of the NFL’s Chicago Bears, needed renovations, the collaborative work of architectural lighting professionals with Illume, architects with HOK, as well as MEP and AV teams with ME Engineers, resulted in the perfect strategy. Designers set out to expand and renovate the ’90s-era sports training facility with a goal of focusing on the 24/7 wellbeing of players and staff, while celebrating the history of the Bears’ storied past.
The all-LED project expanded the already 143,000-sq ft building by nearly 163,000 sq ft and implemented lighting strategies often associated with “hospitality and leisure,” says lead lighting designer Casey Curbow of Illume. For example, linear slot-light patterning at 50 footcandles in the treatment center and 40 fc in the locker room creates framed ceiling transitions and highlights updated architecture. Football-themed design influences are also present; in the locker room, slot lights accentuate player names and form lines of light leading up to the ceiling, where they mimic yard lines and hashmarks on a football field. Additionally, 30-fc slot-light patterns illuminate meeting rooms and open offices, which were previously dark and isolated. In the revamp, offices were nearly doubled in size and constructed with glass walls to connect staff with the game and maximize daylight.
Slot lighting isn’t the only hospitality-like lighting element pairing the leisure aesthetic with sports history and training. Throughout the entire facility, concealed linear accent lights emphasize walnut wood, stone and tile textures. Focused accent lights at a design target of 15 fc provide horizontal illumination in corridors, while accent lights on regressed trackheads in spaces like the circulation center, work café and draft room provide task lighting and softly direct attention to team graphics. And in what would be an otherwise utilitarian weight room, designers included continuous perimeter accents to provide vertical illumination and highlight team branding. “These [lighting] opportunities were a tool to help motivate, inspire and connect players with the team’s past,” says Curbow. Additionally, decorative pendants and vibrant neon graphics were used selectively throughout to harmonize the accent-, focused- and perimeter-lighting schemes with the updated architecture.
At the heart of the space is the nutrition center—the kitchen-like setting stresses the importance of all-around wellness for players and staff, but it also serves as the epicenter of the facility’s connection to the Bears’ legacy. Watching over the space, like a mama-bear with her cubs, is a custom-made art installation of 100 illuminated glass rods to represent each season of the team’s century in the NFL. “Surface-mounted track and track-mounted trackheads were orchestrated within the final graphic rod installation,” says Curbow. “The trackhead layout was regularly spaced with rod density to ensure each rod—both internal and external facing—was fully illuminated. We had discussions with the architect on transparent, translucent and opaque rod material finishes, which drove the architectural material specification and allowed for a varied accenting of the rod finishes.” Alongside the nutrition space’s modern homage to 100 years of tradition is a linearly illuminated stairwell encased in glass leading to the coaches’ center; once again reinforcing the connections between health, teamwork and the team’s history.
The AV-integrated and scene-based digital dimming controls add yet another layer of interest and modernization to Halas Hall. “We continue to see more emphasis now placed on immersive digital environments in training facilities,” says Curbow. The 13,000-sq ft Indoor Turf Classroom with a full-wall projection screen that displays play simulations and red-zone walk-throughs, is a perfect example of just that. “One challenge,” Curbow continues, “was providing a DMX-dimmable multilayer lighting design for the Indoor Turf Classroom that involved scenes varying between high vertical illumination—for accenting full double-height wall graphics—to a carefully focused, very low-dimmed setting—for horizontal-only illumination—when the full-wall AV projection was turned on during team walk-throughs.”
Along with the Indoor Turf Classroom, the all-staff and draft rooms, position meeting rooms and player lounge incorporate “touchscreens with integrated lighting controls at main presentation areas; lighting only control keypad stations at room entrances; and Bluetooth interface for tablet and phone device controls,” says Curbow. The different scenes made possible by AV integration and digital dimming can energize a workout, aid in cool-down after long practices, soothe body and mind in late-night hours, and help the Bears remember who they are and where they come from before a big game.
The expansion and renovation of Halas Hall proves that with the right design, sports training facilities can be so much more than just the obvious. They can be places for communication, art, history and building new futures. “Collaborating with the architect to redefine what these facilities are capable of as they become 24/7 hubs for the team, as well as a recruiting tool for players, is always an engaging and rewarding task,” says Curbow. “We really enjoyed establishing the technically driven, task-oriented lighting design criteria for professional training requirements, while also strategically balancing decorative lighting elements more aesthetically associated with hospitality, wellness and leisure.”