Sunday, 17 July 2011

Magnificent Millennium Park

If you’re looking for the heart of Chicago, you can’t go past Millennium Park, which sits about halfway along Michigan Avenue, often referred to as the ‘Golden Mile’. Ideally located in an area called ‘The Loop’ (Chicago’s theatre district) and positioned close to the Lake Michigan shoreline, it offers grand views of many of the older high rise buildings of the city. It is beautifully designed with landscaped gardens, outdoor eating areas, pavilions and plenty of places to sit and relax while enjoying the grand vista. Throughout the park there are a host of interesting public art works, specifically designed to encourage human interaction. During our visit it was the height of summer and the magnificent ‘Crown Fountain’ designed by Jaume Plensa was immensely popular, with children keen to splash in the puddles or get soaked by the jets of water that emerge from the mouths of giant digital faces. However by far the most popular sculpture is ‘Cloud Gate’, which is fondly referred to as ‘the bean’ by most locals. This huge polished stainless-steel sculpture created by Indian born British artist Anish Kapoor attracts thousands of visitors daily to the plaza to view a distorted reflection of the Chicago skyline and the various activities at ground level. This bold sculptural theme continues with the centrepiece of the park, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehrey. This post-modernist structure provides a stunningly and creatively sculptural sound shell that is used for a wide variety of outdoor concerts. While we’re in town, there were free concerts on most evenings, attracting people to sit in the amphitheatre or relax on the grass to listen and watch the sun set. We were surprised to learn that Millennium Park was only completed in 2004, as it certainly feels like it has been part of down town Chicago for much longer. It truly is an amazing piece of architectural, engineering and landscape design that literally covers some 24 acres of railway tracks that continue to run beneath. It just goes to show what can be achieved with what many might have previously considered to be unusable land. It remains an exciting addition to Chicago’s extensive parkland boulevard and remains yet another attraction that continues to breathe new life into this impressive city.

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