At long last, my account of the Burnham Pavilions constructed in Millennium Park this summer to commemorate the Centennial of Burnham's Chicago plan. I will keep this brief because quite honestly, I distinctly remember feeling underwhelmed upon my first viewing of the installments. Perhaps it is because I was so excited to observe the two projects, perhaps it is because I so want to hold Zaha atop an architectural pedestal and fall in love with everything she creates, or perhaps it is because the two pavilions appear so sleek and refined in photographs, but I held quite high expectations for my foray down to Millennium Park to finally see the projects in person.
In keeping with my expectations, I did snag a few intriguing photographs and enjoyed meandering among the spaces created by the unique forms. Yet, something about the presentation was unsettling to me. Both studios chose to work with pure white forms, which in theory would create a wonderful backdrop to the Chicago skyline and allow for a great play of color in the evening. However, in the reality of a harsh urban climate, the forms just came off as dirty and unkempt in the light of day. I had envisioned Zaha's pavilion to take on an ephemeral and light quality when I first saw it in photographs, but (and it pains me greatly to admit this) the form and materials looked rather cheep upon closer inspection. My last, and most upsetting, complaint addresses the lack of contextual expression present in the piece. Zaha's pavilion, aside from vaguely resembling the shape of the now iconic bean sculpture, really speaks nothing of Chicago to me. My mind simply does not connect the curvaceous stretched fabric and pliable form to a city built upon a rigid grid and unwavering working class values.
The UNStudio pavilion did entice me as an interactive urban structure. The stark planes interplayed beautifully with the sinuous support pieces, drawing visitors like the young boy above and myself to amble through the space, looking both at the structure itself and to the buildings beyond. In many ways, the UNStudio was able to integrate elegantly into the Chicago skyline. In the shot above, I admire the way the structure drew my eye through an elegant portal and into the city beyond. At the same time, I do note that despite the abundant number of noteworthy highrises visable from Millennium Park, this was really the only view I was able to capture through the sculpture's portals. Perhaps UNStudio meant to make a statement by choosing to highlight the newly completed Trump Tower. Is this the future of Chicago's historically innovative and vibrant architectural creations? Only time will tell.