Sunday, July 03, 2005

Chicago footnote 2: A park that works

The art of the possible in the city of the deal

Now that the early hopes of redevelopment at ground zero that would both honor the dead and speak optimistically to the living have grown dimmer and dimmer, consider Millennium Park.

Millennium Park 1

Crown Fountain: the twin pillars of glass block 50 ft. high are monumental enough to stand up to a "big shoulder" skyline.

Millennium Park 1

The faces change before your eyes. They're the faces of real Chicago people.

As the park turns a year old this month, architecture critic Blair Kamin (reg. req.) can hardly contain himself:

In the national conversation, Millennium Park is being hailed in some quarters as an example of how business and political leaders can pull together -- in sharp contrast to the feuding among powerful interests that has turned the rebuilding of ground zero into a textbook case of civic inertia. "One of the great new models for a new kind of urban park," The New Yorker's architecture critic, Paul Goldberger, told television host Charlie Rose on Rose's show in May.

For those who live with it every day, it may be just as important that Millennium Park has begun to fulfill its social promise, evolving into a widely used public space. . . .

. . .
it is well on its way to achieving its potential as a great democratic space, a mixing chamber for people of different races and classes, who normally live entirely segregated from one another.

Millennium Park 1

Frank Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion encloses and embraces.

Millennium Park 1

But for many, Cloud Gate (under wraps till late summer while the seams between the steel plates are buffed out) is the best thing about the park.

In the years that Millennium Park was under construction all anyone could talk about was the Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion. People talked about the signature Gehry style that would move Chicago's architectural sensibilities from the 1970's, firmly into the new millennium. Once the protective bubble surrounding "Cloud Gate" came down, people stopped talking about Gehry as the vision of the future. They talked about the acoustics of his creation. They talked about his ability to capture the feel of the city. They talked about the view he created of the orchestra. But they stopped talking about his art. Anish Kapoor clearly stole the show and in television interviews seemed mildly embarrassed by his success.

Paul and I visited Millennium Park during a heat wave--so we didn't linger. That we stayed as long as we did is another small testament to this great big space.

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