Posts Tagged ‘Millennium Park’

My work takes me all over West Virginia.  Last week, as I was driving to Mingo County for a project at Laurel Lake Wildlife Management Area, I was thinking of my previous post about Millennium Park in Chicago, and the contrast between Chicago and Mingo County.  As different as night and day in so many ways.  But what Mingo County (and all of southern West Virginia) has that Chicago doesn’t is an incredible, rugged beauty with lush forests and an ever-changing landscape.  Even the highway cuts through the mountains are fascinating glimpses of the underlying geology.  And deep in the heart of the mountains, is a beautiful, tranquil lake.  No interactive, giant fountains spewing water from someone’s mouth.  No giant, shining stainless-steel beans.  Just a lake.  You don’t even need a bench – there are plenty of rocks that will do just fine.

You won't find this in Chicago.

My motivation in writing this blog is to encourage the design and development of good public spaces, primarily in urban settings.  The first urban parks were intended to offer city dwellers an escape from urban life, a place where they could relax in a natural setting. 

In Millennium Park there are indeed areas of the park that allow the visitor to connect with nature, but there are also elements that seem to be from another world.  Clearly the concept of the urban public space is ever evolving.

In West Virginia, urban living is on a completely different scale compared to Chicago.  A resident of downtown Charleston can travel five minutes in almost any direction and get back to nature.  Because it is so easy for us to escape the city, our urban parks can be more about embracing the vibrant downtown environment and social life.

Views like this are easy to come by in West Virginia.

That’s not to say that a naturalistic design in a West Virginia urban park is inappropriate.  In fact, depending on the geographical and socio-economic context, it may be very desirable to provide an oasis of green in a concrete jungle.  But we need to recognize that with such easy access to the mountains of West Virginia, there are opportunities for our urban spaces to meet other needs. 

Fancy benches aren't always necessary.

Are there Frank Gehry structures in the future of our public spaces?  Probably not, but there is room for thought-provoking architecture.  There is room for unusual art.  There is room for the urban experience that can’t be found in our beautiful mountains.

I’ve got to get out more.

Chicago's Millennium Park

I recently wrote about security issues facing public spaces, and although the post received no “official” comments, it did generate some discussion in other venues.  In a LinkedIn discussion group, a landscape architect from Chicago brought up the differences between an interactive public space and one that’s more passive.  A passive space is more about relaxing and sitting on a bench and watching the world go by.  An interactive space encourages the public to more directly get involved.  Don’t just look at the water feature, get wet.  Don’t just walk through a park, stay and watch a concert.  Don’t just look at art from a distance, walk around, under it, on it and touch it.  The interactive public space draws a broader cross-section of people and through inclusion, creates a safer public space.  The Chicago landscape architect used an example she was familiar with – Millennium Park in downtown Chicago.

Although this blog is intended to be about West Virginia public spaces, I’m all for learning from other places, especially when it’s a mind-blowing space like Millennium Park.  Now I’ve never been to Millennium Park.  I’ve never been to Chicago.  But through the magic of the internet, I’ve learned enough about the park to know it’s now on my list of must-see places.  Take a look for yourself.  I’m not sure where to start, but I love water features so let’s start there.

The Crown Fountain is something else.  Two fifty-foot glass-block towers face each other, separated by a reflecting pool.  Water shoots from each tower into the pool.  But what makes this fountain (if you really want to use such a mundane term for a spectacular effect) are the images projected on each tower.  Faces of Chicago residents are projected onto the towers in such a way as to create the illusion that water is spouting from their mouths.  I have got to see this in person.

Crown Fountain

Then there’s Cloud Gate, a huge, highly polished, stainless steel sculpture that looks like a giant bean from an alien space ship.  Not only can you see distorted reflections of the Chicago skyline on its surface, you can walk up to it, touch, and walk under it.  I have got to see this in person.

Cloud Gate

The Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a Frank Gehry-designed concert venue, looks like the alien mother ship that birthed the giant, stainless-steel bean.  I have got to see this in person.

Pritzker Pavilion

And there is so much more.  Gardens, pavilions, galleries, an amazing Frank Gehry bridge.  I have got to see this place in person.

Ok.  Back down to earth.  Chicago is Chicago.  What can we learn that applies to public spaces in West Virginia?

First, I’ll restate the mantra that I learned from the great Chicago architect, Daniel Burnham, “Make no small plans”.  Too often we’re afraid to think big.  We need to take advantage of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and embrace bold ideas and concepts.

I think my colleague in Chicago is right when stressing the interactive nature of public spaces, especially when addressing areas that have troubling socio-economic or geographical contextual challenges.  In other words, if we’re wanting to transform a public space that has a history of problems, we have to draw a broad cross-section of people.  And we need more than benches to do that.  We have to think of interactive solutions.

Enjoy this trip to Chicago.

Millennium Park Overview

Come home with fresh ideas.