Even though the Art Institute, Museum Campus, Navy Pier, and Monroe St. Harbor have been drawing residents and visitors to downtown Chicago for decades, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that Millennium Park is easily the new crown jewel of Chicago’s lakefront. It’s that impressive.
First conceived in 1997 and completed in July, 2004, this wondrous combination of architecture, art, and landscape design occupies 24.5 acres in the northwest corner of Grant Park. It features an outdoor concert venue, a theatre for performing arts, a sweeping pedestrian bridge, numerous walkways, promenades, outdoor sculptures, and a garden.
Chicagoans enjoy the Great Lawn and Frank Gehry’s stunning Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
Anchoring the park is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a stunningly beautiful outdoor concert venue designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. Ribbons of stainless steel envelop the band shell, twisting and twirling 120 feet in the air, then connect to an overhead trellis made of intersecting steel pipes that stretch over the lawn seating area. More than 100 speakers suspended from the trellis insure that those seated on the 95,000 square foot lawn enjoy the same sound quality as those occupying the pavilion’s 4,000 fixed seats. Even the lawn incorporates high tech measures, and is designed to drain within 10 to 15 minutes after a hard rain.
The pavilion is truly a sight to behold in person. A photograph, even a great one, can’t do this architectural achievement the justice it deserves. We were content to just stand there and look at it for several minutes, never mind being fortunate enough to see a performance here. Time and time again we'd start to walk away, only to turn around to look at it again.
Crown Fountain’s watery light and video show is a big hit.
Designed by sculptor Jaume Plensa, Crown Fountain combines glass, water, light, and video to put on a spectacular show. The two 50-foot glass block towers change colors and video images as water cascades in torrents from their tops. The facing panel of each block shows a close-up video of one of 1,000 faces. The faces, all Chicagoans, change at roughly thirteen minute intervals. Dozens of kids (and some adults) splash around in the shallow reflecting pool between the two blocks. The fountain draws large crowds, especially at night.
Millennium Park visitors and the Chicago skyline are captured in the reflective sculpture by Anish Kapoor.
Cloud Gate, an elliptical sculpture by British artist Anish Kapoor, located on SBC Plaza, has probably become the most photographed spot in the city. The 110-ton sculpture, which has been dubbed The Bean by locals, is formed from highly polished, stainless-steel plates. The curved surface of the plates reflects people, nearby buildings, and the sky and in mirror-like detail. Visitors numbering in the hundreds gather around and underneath the sculpture, which measures 66 feet long, 33 feet high, and 42 feet wide, staring, waving at their reflection, and snapping photos.
Curved lines of the stainless steel-clad BP Bridge.
BP Bridge, a 925-foot pedestrian bridge clad in stainless steel panels, is the first bridge designed by Gehry. Its slithery shape acts as a sound buffer to protect the Pritzker Pavilion from traffic noise. Its gentle slope and hardwood deck makes for an enjoyable, lazy stroll over Columbus Drive between Millennium Park and the eastern edge of Grant Park.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of all was discovering Family Album, the outdoor exhibit by German-born, Paris-based photographer Ewe Ommer on display in Wrigley Square. Over the course of four years beginning in 1996, Ommer traveled the world photographing families, from laborers to teachers to heads of state. Every corner of the globe you can imagine is represented, and each oversized photograph is accompanied by a brief text. In it, Ommer describes how he met the family, and perhaps what each person does for a living, or what the children study in school. Often the family will talk about their dreams and aspirations, or what keeps them together.
Ewe Ommer’s internationally acclaimed outdoor exhibition Family Album at Wrigley Square.
This thought provoking exhibit sucks you in. We looked at a few photos and read the accompanying text. Before we knew it we’d read at least fifty or sixty of the 103 placards on display. If Ommer’s objective was to remind everyone of the strong bonds of family, and that all of us perhaps have more in common with each other than less, then he accomplished what he set out to achieve.
From the moment it opened, Millennium Park instantly emerged as one of the premiere outdoor creations in the world, and one that should be the envy of every city. Unless it’s the absolute dead of winter (and maybe even then), it should be at the very top of your list of must-see Chicago attractions.