By Mario Pisani
The Millennium Park, originally known as Lakefront Millennium Park, is part of a more extensive park that is situated in downtown Chicago. The park is not only one of the largest public green spaces in the city, but it also showcases the diversity of contemporary architecture.
Chicago has been described as one of the ten most influential cities in the world. In the downtown district city known as the Loop there are imposing skyscrapers such as the Willis Tower that has 108 floor levels and scales the dizzy height of 442 metres. High-rise buildings originated in Chicago after the great fire that destroyed the city.
The project dates back to 1997 and was the vision of Mayor Richard M. Daley. It took six years to complete, although some parts of the park have been revisited and thereafter improved. The initial project estimate of 150 million dollars was well surpassed for a final total cost of 475 million and the project was designed by the architect Frank Gehry. The increase in capital costs for the construction led the city authorities to pursue sponsorships from private companies which assisted in part financing the construction of various elements within the park which extends to a superficial area of over 24.5 hectares over rail and large parking lots.
The Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry is the main architectural element within the park. This is a huge open-air theater with some five thousand seats whilst the surrounding lawn can accommodate another fifteen thousand. The structure is composed of tubes and plates of stainless steel and titanium spirals, positioned to create a distinctly unique sound effect. In the square there is the Cloud Gate, a sculpture made up of 110 tons of steel, called "The Bean", by Anish Kapoor, a famous artist of Indian origin and his first work of public art in the United States. Recently the artist created a sculpture composed of a series of mirrors in London's famous Kensington Gardens, made of polished steel mirror that creates a distorted image of their surroundings. This constitutes a series of artistic interventions situated throughout the park and to reflect the change of colours and foliage in the gardens of Kensington. The work is a reflection of the environment - the sky, the trees, the water and the fauna of the park all together to create a magical and enchanting atmosphere.
PARK SCULPTURES AND GARDENS The Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa (2004) consists of two glass towers facing each 15 meters high. Their location delimits a reservoir of about 70 meters invaded by water. The towers are screens that have video images appearing on them, when the faces disappear the towers are transformed into glass walls from which water flows- one of the park’s most popular sttractions.
SECRET GARDEN The Lurie Garden (2.5 hectares) was designed by the firm Gustafson Guthrie Nichols Ltd., Piet Oudolf and Robert Israel, and has a sleek and esoteric design that pays tribute to the city with the motto Horto Urbs, which refers to the transformation of Chicago from a flat landscape and wetland in a vertical city of highrises. The design of the park consists of four main elements: Shoulder Hedge, Light Plate, Dark Plate and Seam Boardwalk. The first frames the garden from the north and west with a 14-foot high metal structure that models the plant into a barrier, forming a monumental entrance that gives people the feeling of entering into a secret garden.
It is also the physical representation of the painting by Carl Sandburg "The city of big shoulders", referring to Chicago. The Light and Dark Plate represent the landscape that has evolved: from past to future. The latter expresses the wild landscape of the origins characterized by dark tones. In contrast, the bright and vivid colors make the landscape of the future clean and controlled. The Seam Boardwalk, with the division between the two diagonals marks the two historic eras that generated the development of the landscape of Chicago, oriented towards the historic mosaic of the city. A timber walkway follows the diagonal and floats over a pond of water. The sound of water against the seam is a living reminder of the great lake nearby.
The BP pedestrian bridge also designed by Gehry connects Millennium Park to Daley Bicentennial Plaza. It’s nicknamed "The Snake" because of its curved shape. Meanwhile, the McCormick tribune plaza was the first attraction in Millennium Park to be inaugurated. It was funded by a grant from the McCormick Tribune Foundation, and for four months a year it operates as an ice rink, with free admission to all users. When not in use as an ice rink, it is transformed as an extensive outdoor dining facility that is home to several culinary events.
The Wrigley Plaza is located in the north-west of Millennium Park, it’s a sort of Greek-theatre-style with a large lawn and a public fountain. The Exelon Pavilions are four generators of electricity facilities consisting of solar energy. In addition to energy production, three of the four pavilions provide access to the lower area of the park and the fourth pavilion, is a reception center to the public.
Finally, we have the modern wing of the Art Institute of Chicago designed by Renzo Piano, for the art collections of the twentieth and twenty-first century European painting and sculpture, contemporary art, architecture, design and photography. The structure is characterized by an external membrane which has been called "a flying magic carpet," located behind the original building dating back 130 years. The two structures are joined by a small gallery. The project also includes the construction of the Nichols Bridgeway, a pedestrian steel bridge almost 190 meters long and 20 meters high. It’s located above the Lurie garden and connects the museum with the nearby Millennium Park.