Chicago Sculpts a Design Adventure
Chicago is synonymous with risk-taking architecture.
City leaders are hoping that Millennium Park, the $475 million
attraction in a former rail hole east of the Loop, has burnished
Chicago's reputation as an architectural and cultural giant.
Whether or not that has happened is a question that will be
debated for years, but one thing is for certain: The park
just east of Michigan Avenue has brought together the work
of some of the top designers and artists of the age in a public
"I don't think anything like this has been done in the
center of a city," said Frank Gehry, the internationally
acclaimed design partner of Los Angeles-based Gehry Partners
LLP, the designer of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and the BP
He spoke during a media event during the week following the
July 16 public opening, which also drew other featured artists
and designers to town.
They included Kathryn Gustafson, the founding partner of Seattle-based
Gustafson, Guthrie Nichol Ltd., the landscape architect for
the park's Lurie Garden. Also present were Anish Kapoor from
London and Jaume Plensa from Barcelona, Spain.
Kapoor is the maker of the "Cloud Gate" sculpture
that some are already predicting could match the Chicago Picasso
sculpture as an instantly recognizable city symbol. Plensa
conceived the multimedia Crown Fountain, which has already
proved popular with adults and water-friendly children.
Overall, the park features a dozen elements, including the
McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, Chase Promenade, Wrigley Square
with peristyle and others above and below grade.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and John Bryan, chairman of Millennium
Park Inc. and former CEO of Chicago-based Sara Lee Corp.,
personally greeted Chicagoans on the park's opening day.
At the media event, they praised the project and those who
planned and built it.
"I must tell you that walking around the park and seeing
the reaction of the people as they came in was about as justifying
as anything I can imagine," Bryan said. "They were
surprised, stunned, astonished, proud, happy and pleased."
Chicagoans have voted for the park with their feet. On a typical
weekend, thousands converge on the area, which formerly held
a rail trench. During the workweek, the park is also packed
with visitors and office workers.
The enthusiasm is tempered with some disappointment.
The project cost exceeds the original 1998 estimate of $150
million by more than three times. The completion is four years
late for the millennium. And some design flaws in the parking
garage resulted in headaches early on, even though the problems
have been fixed.
In spite of these issues, the mayor praised the architects,
artists, engineers and trades people.
"I believe this could not happen in any other city in
the world," he said. "Only in Chicago [could it
happen], where the business community has committed that amount
of money to the millennium."
Indeed, 92 people or organizations donated $1 million or more
to fund the park, Bryan said. The city contributed $270 million.
A Grand Project
The funds paid for the project on 24.5 acres, and many of
the elements were conceived on a grand scale.
The Pritzker pavilion, for instance, features 12 custom-designed
trusses that hold billowing stainless steel panels framing
a 100-ft.-long, 50-ft.-high proscenium door.
Overhead, a trellis of 22 crisscrossing steel pipes spaced
about 65 ft. apart defines the 95,000-sq.-ft. lawn area. The
goal was to create intimacy while allowing openness and a
connection to the surrounding park.
Another aim was to accentuate the performance with the design
by using lessons learned elsewhere.
"At the Hollywood Bowl, from 500 ft. away, the shell
looks puny," Gehry said. "And the sound is puny.
You do not feel you are a part of it."
The trellis arms hold speakers that distribute sound from
the Lares digital processing system.
Had not the trellis concept been developed, a forest of poles
would have been installed to hold the speakers, Gehry said.
"That would have made it a second-class facility, I thought,"
The Douglas fir-clad stage can accommodate a full orchestra
and choir of up to 150 members. The facility has become the
new home for the 70-year-old Grant Park Music Festival.
The pavilion holds 4,000 fixed seats and about 7,000 lawn
seats for a capacity of 11,000 people.
The 925-ft.-long BP Bridge, which spans Columbus Drive and
links the park to Daley Bicentennial Plaza and the entire
lakefront park system, compliments the pavilion with its stainless
steel panels. The sinuously shaped bridge is reportedly the
first ever in public that Gehry designed.
"They (the city) asked me to pull out the stops,"
A Contemporary Feel
Echoing him were Kapoor, Plensa and Gustafson about the sophisticated
nature of the design.
"The idea of a city building a public space that is fully
and truly contemporary is something that is rare," Kapoor
Because of the "Cloud Gate" sculpture's location
near the famed Michigan Avenue street wall, the design sought
to "draw in" the skyline, he said.
The inspiration followed for the highly polished surface and
elliptical shape of sculpture to reflect the park activity
and lights and the skyline. The convex underside reinforces
the idea because people can walk through the space, under
the 110-ton work.
Technically, the 66-ft.-long, 33-ft.-high sculpture is unfinished
because the joints still have to be removed so that the final
product will appear as a single skin.
Plensa said he also sought a contemporary take on an old idea
for the design of the Crown Fountain.
"In ancient cultures, [fountain] gargoyles were the best
representation of life," he added.
Instead of faces cast in stone, the images of 1,000 Chicagoans
were filmed so they can be projected on light-emitting-diode
screens. The screens were incorporated in two 50-ft.-high
glass block towers on each end of a shallow reflecting pool.
During filming, the subjects pursed their lips, and water
comes out of a tube near where their mouths appear on video.
Gustafson said the 40,000-plant Lurie Garden is divided into
two sections, the Dark Plate and Light Plate.
The Dark Plate offers immersion into the site's moist, mysterious
past. The Light Plate refers to the city's control of nature.
"The garden is to give a sense of the city's character,
its strength to pull itself up after the [Great Chicago Fire
of 1871] and rebuild itself," she said. "And it's
rebuilding itself today as you can see by this park."
||City of Chicago
Commission of Chicago;(BP Bridge, "Cloud Gate"
and Crown Fountain): U.S. Equities Development, Chicago;(Lurie
Garden, Exelon Pavilions, seating and site furniture):
Spectrum Strategies Development Corp., Chicago
||(Jay Pritzker Pavilion
and BP Bridge): Gehry Partners LLP, Los Angeles;(Harris
Theater and Exelon Pavilions-North): Hammond Beeby Rupert
Ainge, Chicago;(Crown Fountain): Kreuck Sexton Architects,
Chicago;(Wrigley Square and McCormick Tribune Plaza):
OWP&P, Chicago;(Exelon Pavilions-South): Renzo Piano
Building Workshop, Paris;(Michigan Avenue Ornamental Concrete)
and Engineer: Skidmore Owings & Merrill LLP, Chicago
("Cloud Gate"): Anish Kapoor, London;(Crown
Fountain): Jaume Plensa, Barcelona, Spain
||Clark Construction Group
Inc., Chicago;James McHugh Construction Co., Chicago;W.E.
O'Neil Construction Co., Chicago;Walsh Construction Co.,
sculpture): Performance Structures LLC, Oakland, Calif.
plan): Terry Guen Design, Chicago;Lurie Garden): Gustafson
Guthrie Nichol Ltd., Seattle
Robert Israel, Los Angeles
Piet Oudolf, Hummelo, The Netherlands
Find out about park events and get park history and other
information by visiting www.millenniumpark.org/ on the Internet.