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Special Project - Chicago's
Millennium Park Project
Millennium Park Opens
Chicago Sculpts a Design Adventure
by Craig Barner

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 setting.

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"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 Bridge.

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," he added.

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," he added.

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 added.

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."

 

Key Players
Owner : City of Chicago
Developer:: Public Building 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
Architect: (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
Engineer and Architect: McDonough Associates, Chicago
Artist:

("Cloud Gate"): Anish Kapoor, London;(Crown Fountain): Jaume Plensa, Barcelona, Spain

General Contractor: Clark Construction Group Inc., Chicago;James McHugh Construction Co., Chicago;W.E. O'Neil Construction Co., Chicago;Walsh Construction Co., Chicago
Fabricator: ("Cloud Gate" sculpture): Performance Structures LLC, Oakland, Calif.
Landscape Architect: (master plan): Terry Guen Design, Chicago;Lurie Garden): Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd., Seattle
Design Concept: (Lurie Garden): Robert Israel, Los Angeles
Perennial Planting Design: (Lurie Garden): Piet Oudolf, Hummelo, The Netherlands

Useful Source

Find out about park events and get park history and other information by visiting www.millenniumpark.org/ on the Internet.

 

 

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