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Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Gehry Partners

Gehry Partners’ Pavilion in Millennium Park catalyzed the creation of a new postindustrial playground of crowd-pleasing spectacle

© Scott McDonald

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By Blair Kamin

When Chicago’s Millennium Park opened last July, it felt like Woodstock without the mud and the drugs. In the first six weeks alone, Chicago officials estimate, more than a million people poured through the $475 million, 24.5-acre park to see such dazzling projects as Frank Gehry’s exuberant Pritzker music pavilion, a snaking bridge (Gehry’s first), and huge—and hugely playful—works of public art by Anish Kapoor and Jaume Plensa. What the parkgoers really were looking at, though, was the future—a bold exploration of a new paradigm for urban parkland.

The transformation began in earnest in 1999 when Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley unveiled Gehry’s plan for the Pritzker Pavilion. The design set the park’s tone—forward-looking and contemporary rather than backward and Beaux-Arts. The example set by the Pritzkers’ gift (they annually bestow the Pritzker Architecture Prize) also instituted a kind of plutocrat peer pressure, leading other wealthy families to donate. The $60.3 million Jay Pritzker Pavilion spreads across Grant Park like a giant fish fillet. With outdoor seating for 4,000 in fixed seats and 7,000 on a lawn, it consists of two interconnected structures: A band shell with a boldly cantilevered headdress of gleaming, stainless-steel curls that reach a 120-foot height, and a woven network of curving steel pipes that forms a heroically scaled, domelike trellis, 600 feet long by 320 feet wide. The trellis sweeps over the entire audience area, supporting speakers that liberate the lawn from the visual clutter of poles.

Though the pavilion has its faults—the trellis appears opaque rather than lacy from certain angles outside, for example—on the whole it succeeds brilliantly. The bland corporate towers behind the stage are an effective foil to the celebratory curve of the shells, which suggest waves of sound emanating outward from the stage. The band shell and skyline combination also enables the person at the back of the lawn to feel visually engaged with the stage, correcting a problem Gehry had trouble solving in his previous work at the relatively diminutive Hollywood Bowl. Yet it is the trellis that is the project’s glory. Not only does the speaker system mounted on it deliver exceptional outdoor sound, it is so alluring that people picnic there even when no concerts are being held. Gehry extends Chicago’s vaunted tradition of bare-boned architecture, dispensing with Miesian rationalism for an architecture of motion and feeling.

Want the full story? Read the entire article in our January 2005 issue.
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Formal name of Project:
Jay Pritzker Pavilion


Millennium Park, Inc.

Gehry Partners, LLP
12541 Beatrice Street
Los Angeles, California 90066
United States
Phone 310-482-3000
Fax 310-482-3006


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