Stainless steel Cloud Gate aka The Bean, dominates Chicago’s shining Millennium Park.
THE Bean is already one of Chicago’s major landmarks, up there with the Hancock Tower, the Chicago River, the Willis Tower, Navy Pier and, yes, Wrigley Field.
In fact, it is Chicago’s No. 2 tourist attraction. It has received an estimated 4.5 million visitors a year since it opened in 2004, second only to iconic Navy Pier with 8.6 million.
The elliptical Bean, as the stainless-steel sculpture is known by locals, is the major landmark in the city’s Millennium Park, a US$475mil (RM1.576bil) public park that opened in 2004. It sits where railroad yards and parking lots once stood at the edge of downtown. It has become Chicago’s new front yard. The park has its own greeters, welcome centre and gift shop.
Officially, the three-story sculpture by London artist Anish Kapoor is known as Cloud Gate. But its kidney-bean shape is why is it is known simply as The Bean.
The public sculpture strikingly reflects and distorts the neighbouring skyline and clouds on its gleaming surface.
It cost US$23mil (RM76.3mil) and is made from 168 stainless steel plates with no visible seams. It is 66 feet long, 33 feet high and 42 feet wide (20m by 10m by 12.8m), weighing 110 tons (100 tonnes). It looks like an oversized drop of mercury.
Visitors can walk under its 12-foot-high (3.65m) arch and even touch the stainless steel surface. It is whimsical and irresistible. Everyone loves The Bean, on AT&T Plaza, the centrepiece of Millennium Park.
The park lies on the south side of the Chicago River, tucked between the downtown area (the Loop) and Lake Michigan.
What Chicago has done with Millennium Park is a major urban renewal effort.
From the 1850s to 1997, the land where the park is now was controlled by the Illinois Central Railroad. Visionary Chicago leader Daniel Burnham realized that the tract was untouchable in the early 1900s and designed Grant Park around it. By the 1990s, the area was covered with parkland, unsightly tracks and parking lots.
In 1997, Mayor Richard M. Dailey unveiled plans for a 16-acre (6.5ha) park and outdoor concert venue in the Beaux Arts style of nearby Grant Park. With the involvement of architect Frank Gehry and other partners, the project grew to 24.5 acres (9.9ha).
The park also features Crown Fountain. Spanish artist Jaume Plensa created a shallow pool between two 50-foot-high (15.2m) glass-block towers. The black granite reflecting pool fountain and the towers cost US$17mil (RM56.4mil).
The water operates from May to October, cascading down the towers and spouting through nozzles on the front of the towers that show faces of 1,000 Chicagoans.
Concerts are held in the park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion with its Great Lawn. It has seats in the pavilion for 4,000 and can accommodate 7,000 more on the grass.
It features a stainless-steel band shell designed by Gehry. A trellis of curved steel pipes holds the sound system. It is home to the Grant Park Music Festival.
The McDonald’s Cycle Center offers bike rentals at the park’s northeast corner.
Millennium Park has won awards for its accessibility and green design.
The park offers greeter tours at 11.30am and 1pm, daily from May to October. It is a 45-minute free walking tour that looks at the park’s art and architecture.
Tours are also offered of the 2.5-acre (one ha) Lurie Garden at the park’s southern end at 11am. Fridays and 10am Sundays from May to September. It cost US$13.2mil (RM43.8mil) to build the garden.
Millennium Park is bordered by Michigan Avenue to the west, Columbus Drive to the east, Randolph Street to the north and Monroe Drive to the south. It is connected via the 925-foot-long (282m) BP Pedestrian Bridge and the Nichols Bridgeway to other parts of Grant Park, Lake Michigan, the Lakefront Trail and Navy Pier.
Park hours are 6am to 11pm daily. Admission is free. For information, call 312-742-1168 or 312-742-2963, or see www.millenniumpark.org.
For tourist information, contact the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, 312-567-8500, www.choosechicago.com. – Akron Beacon Journal/McClatchy-Tribune Information Service