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The List

(page 3 of 10)

Frank Gehry, architect
Millennium Park

Outsiders have been offering their best work to Chicago ever since H. H. Richardson (of Boston) designed the Marshall Field’s Wholesale Store in the Loop (1887; now demolished). The Pritzker Pavilion, in the fullness of time, may or may not be judged Frank Gehry’s most influential. But if the band shell ever becomes a signature masterpiece, credit goes partly to Chicago, a city tough as nails on architects.

“The best architectural city in America,” said Gehry, who’s no fool, of Chicago after settling his contract for what was ultimately a $60-million project. Designing here, he said, was the opportunity of a lifetime.

“We always wanted Gehry,” says former Art Institute’s chairman, John Bryan, who was charged with assembling artists and funds for Millennium Park. “We needed first-class architecture to get people to part with their money.”

It seemed simple enough. Of course, it wasn’t. Among the many constituencies involved was the 800-pound gorilla: Mayor Daley, who giveth and taketh away. Bryan says Daley went with Gehry pretty much from the beginning, but later complained of too many eccentricities. There was talk of the “Gehry-ization” of the park. Fine, replied Gehry. I’ll convince him.

Hardly frivolous was the sound trellis, one of the most carefully engineered acoustical systems ever. (It forces comparison with the Auditorium Theatre on Congress, adored in its time by opera singers worldwide.) The mayor also balked at the meandering stainless steel bridge that accompanied the design. Its structure was critical, Gehry pointed out, to buffer sound from Columbus Drive, which it spans.

That largely settled it, though a city hall aide at one point had to mention that Gehry was one of the most famous architects in the world for a reason. So form followed function followed fame. And, through it all, Chicago may have gained an icon of “baroque modernism”—joining other local milestones that have defined the world’s architecture for a century or more.

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