Monday, February 23, 2015

Jay Pritzker Pavilion
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Jay Pritzker Pavilion (2004) Frank Gehry, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1931 Chicago mayor Anton Cermak thought that holding free concerts in the city's recently completed, Beaux-Arts-inspired-redo of its magnificent front yard, might boost the spirits of a citizenry struggling in the Great Depression, and a bandshell was quickly erected in Grant Park just in time for a summer of music. Seventy-three years later, Mayor Richard M. Daley unveiled the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra's 21st century version of a bandshell, architect Frank Gehry's Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

 [Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Soaring 120 feet into the air, the structure was born out of the desire and determination of a mayor, a well respected business leader, and a donor with deep pockets, to take what had originally been a rather ordinary music bandshell and turn it into something spectacular. The new music pavilion was one piece in a giant undertaking dubbed Millennium Park. The mayor had recruited businessman John Bryant to help navigate the now budget-busting project which had morphed from a nice but average park into a major statement about art, architecture and landscape design for a new century. The new music venue would replace the orchestra's old home, the Petrillo Bandshell, a 1978 cube-with-a-stage which itself had replaced the 1931 steel and plaster shell. And as the scope of the project expanded, Bryant and Daley's friend, one of the city's wealthiest citizens Cindy Pritzker, stepped-in with a donation of $15 million and her friend Frank Gehry as designer. His vision for the new bandshell-cum-music pavilion would be anything but last century.

  [Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Gehry's directive was to build an outdoor, acoustically sensitive concert hall, that included auditorium style seating for 4,000, as well as space for 7,000 people spread-out on a great lawn. Acoustics are tough outside, so in addition to a musically sensitive proscenium stage Gehry devised a plan to deliver better sound to lawn listeners as well. At the old music cube speakers had been installed on poles scattered across the grassy area of Butler Field, which didn't deliver much in the way of sophisticated sound vibrations. So Gehry decided to drape a trellis of stainless steel tubing over the lawn which would then be used to suspend well-placed speakers above patrons heads, and in turn give the blanket-sitters a much better musical experience.

  [Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Grant Park, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

When the design was revealed in November, 1999 it was met with delight and controversy. In 1836, when the city was not much more than a fort, a few log cabins and lots of marshy sand, a map was drawn-up by the government that included an open area along the lakefront which included the words, "Forever open, clear and free." It was the opening salvo of a battle that has been fought ever since. Park advocates said that Gehry's 120-foot structure violated the intent of the 163-year-old mandate. The city countered that it wasn't a building at all, but a piece of sculptural art and therefore not subject to the decree, so up it went.
Wrapped in part by panels of stainless steel, the large, sail-like petals are supported by a structural frame which Gehry chose to reveal instead of bury. From certain angles the entire thing looks like it could be blown away as it catches and is scooped-up Chicago's notorious lake breezes, but it is not going anywhere. And while many have criticized its overwhelming size and trellis-hovering cage, the Pritzker Pavilion has become a very popular exclamation point in a very popular public space.

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