Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 2004
Randolph Street between Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive
After agreeing to accept the commission for the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry (born 1929) stated that he would “like to design the relationship between the audience and the stage,” and, in so doing, he would answer the question of how to create an outdoor space “where the people who are far away from the orchestra feel like they are included in the performance.” The solution involved an innovative arching trellis and distributed sound system, which covers the elliptical lawn on the north end of Millennium Park, combined with his signature billowing stainless steel sails forming a “headdress” above the stage. The Pavilion includes 4000 fixed seats near the stage and it can accommodate an additional 7000 people on the Great Lawn. The twenty-two steel arches of the trellis, some of which span more than 400 feet, allow the speakers to be placed above the audience without blocking sight lines. The lead structural engineer for this project, John Zils of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, had worked with Gehry on his famous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain as well as the Vila Olimpica in Barcelona.
Cindy Pritzker, a member of the Millennium Park Committee, was instrumental in promoting Gehry as the best choice for this project and the Pritzker family, associated with Hyatt Hotels, made the largest private financial contribution for the Pavilion. Jay A. Pritzker, who died on January 23, 1999 and for whom the Pavilion is named, and his wife Cindy established the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1978 and it was awarded to Frank Gehry in 1989.
Part of Gehry’s Millennium Park commission included the opportunity to complete his first-ever bridge design, resulting in the snake-like BP Bridge, a 925-foot long brushed stainless steel and wood bridge that spans the four lanes of Columbus Drive, connecting Millennium Park with Daley Bicentennial Plaza. Resembling the prehistoric Great Serpent Mound in southwest Ohio, the BP Bridge offers a stunning view of the Pritzker Pavilion while providing an acoustical barrier to lower the noise of nearby traffic.