Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion provides a sense of audio immersion and envelopment from the stage across the entire lawn. It’s not often that massive urban transformation projects are without their detractors, and Millennium Park was no exception. Previously home to rail yards, parkland, and parking lots, plans to revitalize this site—located not far from Chicago’s Lake Michigan shoreline—began in late 1997, with construction due for completion in time to celebrate, as the park’s name suggests, the millennium. During construction, the local press actively criticized the city for cost overruns due to the design changes and scope creep that delayed the project. (The park’s official opening ceremony was eventually held in July 2004.) But, largely thanks to its acceptance as a prominent Chicago landmark for both locals and tourists, Millennium Park is now the recipient of much less criticism, and much more praise.
Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Home to the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra and the Grant Park Music Festival—an event dating back to the Depression—Millennium Park’s main attraction is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, an outdoor concert venue featuring 4,000 fixed seats as well as lawn seating that accommodates about 7,000. Originally designed by the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, part-way through the project the design was handed over to Frank Gehry, who, in addition to the pavilion, oversaw the design of the BP Pedestrian Bridge, which snakes its way between Millennium Park and Chicago’s Daley Bicentennial Plaza. The Talaske Group in Oak Park, IL was charged with acoustic and audio design for the pavilion; at the time, Jonathan Laney oversaw the latter portion of this endeavor. (Laney is now principal consultant at Chicago’s Threshold Acoustics; he also continues on as a systems consultant at Millennium Park.) db Integrated Systems oversaw the installation.
The Crown Fountain is a video sculpture comprised of two 50-foot towers constructed of glass bricks and situated on a reflecting pool made of black granite. Because the venue was to house the Grant Park Symphony, Laney explains that the main priority was to create an environment that was amenable to classical music. “It becomes very difficult to create what is an orchestral listening experience in an outdoor environment, as well as one where there are no walls or ceiling,” he said. Laney, who had previously worked for what is now Jaffe Holden Acoustics, applied the knowledge about acoustic enhancement systems he had acquired from founder Chris Jaffe. “When you go to see an orchestra, the room is as much a part of that listening experience, providing the sense of immersion and envelopment.” To achieve this outdoors, the Talaske Group specified a LARES Acoustic Enhancement system.
Arguably one of the most interesting aspects of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion is the distributed loudspeaker-system design—more specifically, the 60-foot high stainless steel trellis Gehry and his team designed as a means of facilitating loudspeaker placement over 560 feet of audience area. “The beauty of the trellis is that it gave me much better loudspeaker positions [than I had to work with in the previous pavilion design],” Laney said. “It also provided a better structure for lighting the lawn area.” Laney specified an Electro-Voice X-Array for the left-center- right loudspeakers; Electro-Voice Xi boxes were specified as delays.
Aside from addressing technical concerns, Laney pointed out that the trellis structure serves to define the audience area on the lawn. “It gives [audience members] the same experience of moving from the lobby into the audience chamber of any performing arts center or concert hall,” he said.
Video, water, and electricity—and getting all three to play together nicely—were top of mind for the Chicago team at Shen Milsom & Wilke when the firm was commissioned to design the video systems for Millennium Park’s Crown Fountain.
Designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, the Crown Fountain is a video sculpture comprised of two 50-foot towers constructed of glass bricks and situated on a reflecting pool made of black granite. Plensa’s design, which was executed by the Chicago-based Krueck and Sexton Architects, is a high-tech nod to traditional fountains that incorporate gargoyles into their designs: a pre-recorded series of faces (all citizens of Chicago) runs, displaying close-ups individually in sequences that last several minutes. The end of each sequence features the individual with their lips pursed, and water flows out of their mouth. The video walls themselves were manufactured and installed by Barco.
Since glass naturally has a greenish tinge, the design team had the glass blocks that make up each tower custom-manufactured by the Smith Glass Company in Glenshaw, PA to ensure that they were truly transparent so as not to interfere with the projected video. Randy Tritz, partner at Shen Milsom & Wilke, explains that there was some back-and-forth on just how to fabricate what would become the “gargoyle’s” mouth: “We looked at custom manufacturing four of the tiles to cut a round hole out of that, which would create the large opening that we needed,” he said. The problem was, when water wasn’t flowing, there would be a black spot in the middle of the image. “We looked at different options and eventually we decided to move the glass block that dealt with that portion of the of the lips a few inches, so that perceptually it looked the same, but those couple of inches allowed us to get water tubes between the edges of the block and position them to create the gargoyle.” In doing this, the team went from a single-hose concept to a series of tubes that combined to create a single waterspout. This solution also addressed concerns surrounding water pressure: visitors are encouraged to stand under the fountains during hot weather, but city officials weren’t keen on having small children blown over by too much force.
Tritz noted that this project bore a strong influence on how his team viewed content development in projects that have followed. “Content development was instrumental in making the whole system come together,” he said. “Very early on in the project we learned that it isn’t just all about the hardware; it’s more about how that system was going to be used in terms of the video that’s displayed, and the control system that drives that.”
Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.