Culture Magazine

Xanadu on the Lake: Chicago’s Millennium Park

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
Conceived in 1997, Millenium Park was officially opened on 16 July 2004. Occupying 24.5 acres in the northwest corner of Chicago’s Grant Park, this new park is a garden on a roof. It was built over an automobile garage and railway lines and cost a half-billion in dollars and likely as much in egos accommodated and backs scratched.
Like all gardens, it is set-off from ordinary life, a place of refuge, celebration, play, conversation, or simple rest. Judging by what I saw and heard the two times I was there – Tuesday afternoon, 27 July and Friday noon 29 July, 2004 – Chicago has done well. Children splashed, mothers watched over, lovers held hands, locals bathed in the sunlight, the symphony rehearsed, tourists snapped photos, and photographers steadied their cameras on tripods.
I don’t know whether historians will score this as the first grand public space of the Twenty-First Century (in the common Western reckoning of dates). “Grand” is not the right word, as it implies intimidation just barely contained; and that is not the park’s mood. Cross “grand” with “playful” and “inviting” and you come closer to the mark. Its defining structures – Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Pavilion, Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain, and Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate – are not “pedestal” structures. They cannot be appreciated as though in a universe alone. They interact with and through you, making the park’s space plastic and alive.
As someone who lives and works within sight of the air space that once was the World Trade Center, I cannot but think of this joyous new space in the terrible context of 9/11. Millennium Park is what those buildings never were, an artistic and architectural marvel on a scale at once individually human and collectively urban. Though not so intended, Millennium Park is also a proper answer to 9/11’s hateful destruction. It is a testament to the human spirit that both exemplifies our aspirations and accommodates our frailties, for its existence embraces and intermingles both.
For more photos, go HERE.

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