From the Chicago Tribune
Millennium Park fountain to let visitors walk on water
By Gary Washburn
Tribune staff reporter
October 5, 2001
A fountain featuring 50-foot-tall video images of water-spouting humans and a reflecting pool that invites pedestrians to walk on water will be the newest component of Millennium Park, the controversial downtown green space under construction at Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street.
The privately financed work will feature huge glass block towers with full-length LED screens that alternate images of as many as 1,000 Chicagoans, said its designer, Spanish artist Jaume Plensa.
And the piping in the towers will permit water to gush from the mouths of some of the subjects, a feature described by Plensa as a modern version of the stylized gargoyles that for centuries have adorned more traditional fountains.
At a video presentation of his plans Thursday, Plensa said lights inside the towers would produce changing colors--a feature reminiscent of the alternating hues of Buckingham Fountain, the Chicago landmark in Grant Park, just south and east of the new fountain.
Buckingham Fountain "is a wonderful fountain," said Plensa, 45, a native of Barcelona. "It is a reference point in Chicago that is a different expression of what you can do with water."
A meeting place
People who wade into Buckingham's waters risk arrest, but Plensa hopes to create a work that invites visitors to walk across a thimble-shallow reflecting pond, only 3 millimeters deep, which he envisions as "a kind of meeting point."
"Mr. Plensa has a philosopher's understanding of the cultural significance of fountains," said Susan Crown, president of the Arie and Ida Crown Memorial Foundation, a major underwriter of the new work.
"Throughout history, fountains have served as meeting points, bringing people, architecture and nature together," Crown added in a statement. "Jaume captivated us with the elegance of his design."
Plensa said he wants "not just to build a fountain for Chicago, but one for the entire world."
He envisions an Internet site that could be accessed around the globe, showing images of the fountain and providing information about it. Visitors to the site also could click on their favorite color on a palette displayed on their computer screens. The most votes at any time would determine the shade illuminating the towers.
The Crown Memorial Foundation's gift is expected to total about $10 million, according to sources familiar with the fountain commission.
Ed Uhlir, a city consultant on Millennium Park's design, declined to provide a cost estimate for Plensa's creation but said any expense not covered by the Crown donation would be made up by other private contributions.
About $100 million in contributions and pledges from companies and other private sources have been made so far, and a volunteer fundraising committee is seeking to raise at least $25 million more to pay for a variety of artistic features at Millennium Park and an endowment that would help cover future operating costs, Uhlir said.
The largesse for the park and the announcement of Plensa's design comes at a time of government belt-tightening. Mayor Richard Daley on Thursday announced a partial hiring freeze and new overtime pay controls because of declining economic conditions that have affected city revenues.
Officials insist no more public money will be invested in the park, which is under construction, but the project already has sucked up millions of dollars more than Daley envisioned when he announced plans for the project in 1998.
A Tribune investigation this year concluded that slipshod planning, a fast-track construction strategy and cronyism helped contribute to huge cost overruns.
Daley administration officials insist costs rose because the size of the park was increased and additional spending became necessary when privately funded features were added to the design.
Structural underpinnings of the park--which is being built atop a concrete slab that arches over a railroad right of way--had to be increased dramatically, for example, with the addition of an ornate bandshell designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry and a huge jelly bean-shaped stainless steel sculpture by artist Anish Kapoor that could weigh as much as 150 tons.
In part because of the cost increases and in part because revenues from a new Millennium Park parking garage have fallen short of projections, Daley has been forced to divert millions of dollars from a Loop economic development fund into the 24-acre project.
An original budget of $150 million, including public contributions, has ballooned to about $370 million.
The first section of the park, at the southern end of its site, is expected to open sometime this fall, while a skating rink bordering Michigan Avenue begins operation this winter.
Construction of the fountain is expected to start next year and take 12 to 14 months.
Plensa has designed one other fountain, scheduled for completion next month in Jerusalem, and has created sculpture displayed in the U.S., France, Spain, Luxembourg, England, Germany, Italy, Korea and Japan.
Copyright © 2001, Chicago Tribune