Chicago’s Millennium Park

William Benzon
Creative Director
World Development Endowment Foundation

Conceived in 1997, Millenium Park was officially opened on 16 July 2004. Occupying 24.5 acres in the northwest corner of Chicago’s Grant Park, this new park is a garden on a roof. It was built over an automobile garage and railway lines and cost a half-billion in dollars and likely as much in egos accommodated and backs scratched.

Like all gardens, it is set-off from ordinary life, a place of refuge, celebration, play, conversation, or simple rest. Judging by what I saw and heard the two times I was there – Tuesday afternoon, 27 July and Friday noon 29 July, 2004 – Chicago has done well. Children splashed, mothers watched over, lovers held hands, locals bathed in the sunlight, the symphony rehearsed, tourists snapped photos, and photographers steadied their cameras on tripods.

I don’t know whether historians will score this as the first grand public space of the Twenty-First Century (in the common Western reckoning of dates). “Grand” is not the right word, as it implies intimidation just barely contained; and that is not the park’s mood. Cross “grand” with “playful” and “inviting” and you come closer to the mark. Its defining structures – Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Pavilion, Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain, and Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate – are not “pedestal” structures. They cannot be appreciated as though in a universe alone. They interact with and through you, making the park’s space plastic and alive.

As someone who lives and works within sight of the air space that once was the World Trade Center, I cannot but think of this joyous new space in the terrible context of 9/11. Millennium Park is what those buildings never were, an artistic and architectural marvel on a scale at once individually human and collectively urban. Though not so intended, Millennium Park is also a proper answer to 9/11’s hateful destruction. It is a testament to the human spirit that both exemplifies our aspirations and accommodates our frailties, for its existence embraces and intermingles both.



Most of the park is above street-level, on what is the roof of a parking garage.

We're on the central plaza looking northwest. That elegant building in the middle is the old Public Library, which is now the Chicago Cultural Center. The yellow box-like structures at the mid-line are cloth banners hung on lamp-posts anchored in the street-level McCormick Tribune Plaza Ice Rink. Anish Kapoor’s mirrored Cloud Gate sticks into the picture from the right.



Grant Park is green; Millenium Park is light green. Lake Michigan is blue.

1: Sears Tower
2: A Picasso sculpture
3: Chicago Cultural Center (old Public Library)
4: Michigan Avenue
5: Columbus Drive

Here is an aerial view of the area as it looked before Millennium Park was constructed. The barren area with railroad tracks in the northwest corner of Grant Park is now beneath Millenium Park. The building complex just south (e.g. left) of that area is the Art Institute of Chicago.

Here is an interactive map of the park itself.


When you click on one of these thumbnail images a new browser window will display the full picture. Once in that window you can navigate through the series by clicking the previous and next links in the footer.

PtoG wash train garage grant
box over canyon shadows
cars door smile flag plaza
paviliongate flying profile curl cosed
tree hedge frame guy hillock
trapped rearview colonade bones ladder
luminous life doors
reflect mecca stylin

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All text and images in this article copyright © 2004 by William L. Benzon.
All Rights Reserved.