The Pritzker Pavilion
55 North Michigan Avenue
What better way to design a music pavilion than to make it look like an explosion of sound waves? And who better to design an explosion of sound waves than Frank Gehry? Erupting with movement, his Pritzker Pavilion – the focal point of Millennium Park – is frozen music.
Ribbons of stainless steel burst outward from the band shell curling in every direction. The structure appears to be magnetized and charged with energy as its arms reach out welcoming the public into its arena. Whereas the skyscrapers framing the pavilion look private and inaccessible, the Pritzker Pavilion is entirely open – a reflection of its role as a public venue offering free daily summer concerts.
The pavilion is grand. Its stage has room enough for a full size orchestra and a 150-person chorus. Including the lawn, it accommodates 11,000 people. The lawn itself is the length of two football fields. Enveloping the lawn is a woven trellis of steel pipes supporting a network of lights and 200 speakers. Originally speakers were going to be mounted on a series of poles as is typical of most outdoor music venues. Gehry shot this idea down in favor of his trellis saying, “You would have had a yard full of vertical poles with speakers on them like lollipops, and that would have been kind of cheesy looking.” Luckily Gehry’s trellis idea prevailed and the 7,000 people who frequently picnic on the lawn have unimpeded sight lines as they enjoy a state of the art sound system.
It uses a distributed sound reinforcement technique that allows musicians to easily hear one another as they perform. The reinforcement speakers time the relaying of sound so that what the audience hears from the speakers is in sync with what they hear coming from the stage.
Neither the trellis nor the band shell would be possible without the help of computers. And Gehry, who was 75 at the time of the Pritzker Pavilion’s completion in 2004, has professed that he will never touch a computer himself. Luckily he has a large team of architects working for him who will. They use the CATIA (Computer Assisted Three Dimensional Interactive Application) software program. Gehry’s designs are made up of thousands of uniquely shaped parts that would be impossible to fit together correctly without the use of this software. It works by waving a computer wand over a physical model. It converts the design into a graphic engineering grid on the computer that is then sent to the structural engineers to make sense of.
Frank Gehry is a true starchitect – a title he is not fond of holding. The winner of the most prestigious prize in architecture – the Pritzker Prize – he is famous for his abstract undulating designs such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Spain and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown L.A . . . and today the Pritzker Pavilion. Gehry has called Chicago “the greatest city in the world as far as contemporary architecture [is concerned].” And what might be Chicago’s premier example of contemporary architecture? That would have to be the Pritzker Pavilion.
Millennium Park is the cultural epicenter of Chicago and it all only starts with the Pritzker Pavilion. It’s also home to Anish Kapoor’s iconic Cloudgate sculpture or the “bean,” Crown Fountain, and the Lurie Garden among other attractions. It’s a place worth exploring. Here’s their website complete with information on their never-ending list of events. And here’s the link to the Gehry Partners website.