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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Millennium Park, Chicago

Millennium Park, Chicago. Michigan Avenue is to the right,
Columbus Drive to the left. The Art Institute is seen in the
top center of the photo on the left side of Michigan Ave.
In the spring of 2014 my wife and I spent three days in Chicago seeing the sights and sites I had read about and written about over the past few years. We saw the Art Institute, the Willis (Sears) tower, Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, ate at the top of the John Hancock Tower while staying in one of the city's oldest and grandest hotels, the Congress Hotel on Michigan Avenue. Since then, I could kick myself for not doing a more thorough canvas of all there was to see and do in the city. We missed Chicago's two most popular attractions, the Navy Pier (not entirely by accident); and one of the most outstanding urban parks, not just in Chicago, or even the U.S., but the entire world--Millennium Park.
A map of the lakefront area (top) featuring the Art Institute, Grant Park, Maggie Daley Park, and Millennium Park. The lower map indicates the
layout of Millennium Park. (Both maps are oriented the same direction.)
What makes this omission all the more aggravating is that the Art Institute of Chicago is practically in Millennium Park--just across East Monroe Street. The aerial image (top) is oriented toward the south, just the opposite of the map, but still gives some idea as to how close I was to this community treasure without realizing it. Our hotel was a couple blocks south of the Art Institute. The aerial photo of the park (top) depicts mostly the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the Great Lawn (center), the Serpentine Bridge (left) and Cloud Gate (right).
The architectural and cultural centerpiece of Millennium Park
Located near the center of the park, built over the Illinois Central rail yards (as is the entire park almost), is the architectural and cultural centerpiece of the park, the Pritzker Pavilion (above). The pavilion is an outdoor concert shell which stands some 120-feet high, with a billowing headdress of brushed stainless steel ribbons that frames the stage opening, while also connecting to an overhead trellis of crisscrossing steel pipes. The trellis supports the sound system, which spans the 4,000 fixed seats as well as the Great Lawn, which accommodates an additional 7,000 people. The state-of-the-art sound system, the first of its kind, was designed to mimic the acoustics of an indoor concert hall by distributing enhanced sound equally over both the fixed seats and the lawn. Jay Pritzker Pavilion was designed by the famed architect, Frank Gehry, and is classified as a work of art to avoid legal restrictions as to its height. All concerts are free.
The bridge is closed in winter due to the difficulty
in removing ice from its wooden floor.
Also designed by Gehry is likely the most unique bridge in the world (some might also say the most beautiful). Called the BP Pedestrian Bridge (the park was largely finance by corporate sponsors, everything from chewing gum to jet aircraft) it is clad in brushed stainless steel panels, intended to complement the Pritzker Pavilion in function as well as design by creating an acoustic barrier from the traffic noise below. It connects Millennium Park to the old Daley Bicentennial Plaza (now Maggie Daley Park), to the east. The 925-foot-long winding bridge, provides incomparable views of the Chicago skyline, Grant Park, and Lake Michigan while also providing access to a subsurface parking garage.
Cloud Gate, 2006, Anish Kapoor. How do they keep it so shiny?
Flanking the Pritzker Pavilion and the Great Lawn to the west, just off Michigan Avenue, is the park's most famous attraction, British artist Anish Kapoor's 110-ton elliptical sculpture he called Cloud Gate. The shiny sculpture (financed by AT&T)is forged of a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates, which reflect Chicago’s famous skyline and the clouds above. A twelve-foot-high arch provides a "gate" to the concave chamber beneath the sculpture, inviting visitors to touch its mirror-like surface and see themselves reflected back from a variety of perspectives. Inspired by liquid mercury, the sculpture is among the largest of its kind in the world, measuring 66-feet long by 33-feet high. I regret missing this more than anything else.

Crown Fountain, 2006, Jaume Plensa.
Just south of Cloud Gate, bordering Michigan Avenue, is another major addition to Millennium Park, further augmenting what amounts to a massive outdoor art museum. The Crown Fountain (above) was designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. The fountain consists of two 50-foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers project video of the faces of a broad social spectrum of Chicago citizens, with open mouths to allow water, a symbol of life, to flow out. Plensa uses the faces of Chicago citizens projected on LED screens, having water flowing through an outlet in the screen to give the illusion of water spouting from their mouths. Plensa's fountain references the traditional use of gargoyles in fountains, where faces of mythological beings were sculpted with open mouths spouting water. His images were taken from a cross-section of a thousand Chicago residents.

The Boeing Galleries feature the work of living artists.
When I referred to Millennium Park as a massive outdoor art museum, I wasn't kidding. The Boeing Corporation has sponsored two sculpture galleries (above) while the three Chase (Bank) Promenades are used as outdoor (and waterproof) fine arts displays featuring flat works, both aimed at promoting the work of living artists (below). If you've ever had the urge to visit an art gallery while under an umbrella, Millennium Park has you...uncovered.

Since Chicago is known as the "Windy City," I wonder how
such displays stand up to a stif breeze off Lake Michigan.
In addition to these truly unique features of the 25-acre park, Chicago's urban landscaping masterpiece also contains those delights which have traditionally made such community rest and recreation areas so attractive. The Lurie Gardens (below) supplies the flowers. Designed by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd, Piet Oudolf and Robert Israel, this five-acre garden pays homage to the City's motto, "Urbs in Horto" (City in a Garden), which refers to Chicago's transformation from its flat and marshy origins to a bold and powerful city. Highlights include dramatically lighting, and a fifteen-foot-high “shoulder” hedge, a visual representation of Carl Sandburg’s famous description of the “City of Big Shoulders,” which encloses the garden on two sides and protects the delicate perennial plants. A graceful hardwood footbridge over shallow water divides the garden diagonally between “light” and “dark” floral areas.

Millennium Park's Lurie Gardens, a refuge among the city's
soaring towers keeping Chicago's skies "well-scraped."
Along with the ubiquitous flowers, fountains, and footbridges, Millennium park also boasts a theater (indoors), a monumental peristyle of columns dedicated to the park's many founders and sponsors (Wrigley Square), a bicycle rental center (McDonald's),and four welcome centers (one at each corner of the park). It's far from the largest urban park in the world, nor is it, by any stretch, the oldest (actually, probably the youngest). It was first proposed in 1997 with construction starting the following year. Cost overruns brought the city's total investment to $270-million with private donations approximating a similar figure. Millennial park was officially opened in 2004, though some might argue that it's been "under construction" ever since.

The Harris Theater, located on Randolph Street behind
and adjacent to the Pritzker Pavilion.
In memory of all those who died supporting the park.


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