Most of the time a visit to a park does not sound like a great thing to do on a visit to anywhere, at least not to me. But, in Chicago, I discovered that what I thought of as a park does not apply to beautiful Millennium Park.
Located between Michigan Avenue and the shore of Lake Michigan, Millennium Park was opened in 2004 as an addition to the historical Grant Park just to the south. So, if you haven’t been to Chicago lately, you probably haven’t seen it. But seeing it is not all there is. You must do it. Experience it. The park is over 24 acres and was designed to bring arts and culture to locals and visitors alike.
The first thing one may notice is a large Peristyle, called the Wrigley Square and Millennium Monument. It is an almost full scale replica of the original peristyle that stood on that spot from 1917 to 1953. It has 40-foot Doric-style columns which can be seen from afar and mark the spot as something special.
Also in the park is the grand and striking Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Designed by internationally renowned architect Frank Gehry, this structure, composed of massive stainless steel (a Gehry trademark) ribbons over a stage used for concerts and other outdoor events. The 120-foot high structure, which frames the stage, connects to a trellis of steel pipes which holds a state of the art sound system used for the the Grant Park Music Festival and other events. While the pavilion is surely functional, it is also a piece of art in itself, worth seeing whether you are attending a concert or not.
Another cool attraction in the park, which can also been seen from a distance, whether you are walking or in a car, is the art piece called the Crown Fountain, designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, which looks like two giant video screens. What it is actually is two 50-foot glass block towers at either end of a shallow reflecting pool which project images of the faces of actual Chicagoans. One thousand Chicago residents were used to give this piece the feel of real Chicago and tie it to the locals. What makes it a fountain is the water that is shot out from the mouth area of the images, a la the old design of fountains where mythological beings would be sculpted with open mouths to allow water to flow out, a sign of life. The water is on from mid Spring to mid Fall each year, but the video images remain on year round.
Finally, what at first seemed like an insignificant large stainless blob, turned out to be one of the coolest works of art in the park. The piece,called Cloud Gate, is by British artist Anish Kapoor. Inspired by liquid mercury this 110 ton, 66 feet long by 33 feet long structure is made of highly polished stainless steel seamlessly put together. Resembling a large bean, Cloud Gate, which has a 12 foot high arch on its underside, is referred to as The Bean by locals and serves as a gateway of sorts to the park and reflects the fabulous Chicago skyline and clouds. Just as interesting is the view from underneath where visitors can stand, touch and even take pictures of The Bean and themselves. Playing with location, one can find all sorts of interesting angles and reflections of themselves due the the reflective nature and shape of The Bean.
If you visit during the winter, you may not be able to enjoy some of the landscaping of the park or some of its gardens, but there is one added advantage to visiting during this time of year. Between Cloud Gate and Michigan Avenue, at the corner of Washington Street, is an open air ice rink, open through mid March. Skating is free and skate rental is available for $10. Skating outdoors on Michigan Avenue in the reflection of The Bean is sure to be a highlight of any trip.
Visitors can also see local art at the Boeing Galleries and take the BP Bridge across to Daley Bicentennial Plaza. The bridge is another striking Frank Gehry work.
Start at the Exelon Pavilions, home to the park’s visitors center if you wish, or just walk around and experience it all for yourself.