As of January 1, 2016, Gapers Block has ceased publication. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions over the past 12-plus years. 

TODAY

Saturday, March 25

Gapers Block
Search

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


A/C
« Chicago Week Artist Mark Hansen Chicago Week Artist David Schalliol »

Feature Wed Aug 12 2009

The Centennial Pavilions Reviewed

The pavilions for the Burnham Centennial join the ongoing list of dynamic and engaging exhibits that have been displayed at Millennium Park. The pavilions were commissioned to Pritzker Prize winning architect Zaha Hadid and UNStudio's Ben van Berkel. While there was some tension in the architecture community about chosing two foreign (to Chicago, that is) designers, a global city, much like the one Burnham envisioned, should integrate different sensibilities with ease. The true struggle, however, is not whether Chicago will accept the company of two talented designers, but will the designers allow Chicago to inform their own design process.

UNStudio Pavillion
UNStudio Pavilion, Photo by John Crouch

At first glance, the UNStudio pavilion may illicit some negative feelings from those who recall the de-humanizing effect of raised building platforms and piloti employed by Modern architects. However, after some observation, the platform is acutally a smartly designed bench intended to pursuade park visitors to linger. This platform also gives the plenum space needed for daziling night-time lighting effects. Moving around the drooped openings, the massive cantilevered roof structure immediately recalls Frank Lloyd Wright's ability to compress and expand space with horizontal planes. To that effect, UNStudio's effort to "surprise us" with views of the city is both successful and legitimately urban. Just as one can wander around parts of the city and catch a glimpse of a familiar building from an unfamiliar angle, the pavilion frames vantage points that make the portions of the skyline seem wholly unique -- as though the Smurfit-Stone building and Trump tower were a single building block in the city's composition.

This vitality is not solely confined to particular vignettes. Like all great public art, the designer must realize that, to some extent, they are simply providing kindling that requires people to set it ablaze. It is unexpected how dynamic the pavilion becomes when populated by dozens of people maneuvering around its awkward footprint. The sculpture allows for accidental meetings of visitors as they emerge around the peeled down supports and find themselves face-to-face with another staring up through the openings. In this sense, the pavilion is a city unto itself, a series of intimate, accidental meetings set with in a dense urban context. Appropriately enough, the material used for the skin, wood panelling with a durable coat, has begun to show signs of overuse. In an odd poetic twist, people have been trying to climb through the openings to elevate themselves above the urban fray. To guarantee that the pavilion survives the summer, it has been temporarily closed for renovations.

Burnham Pavilion
Zaha Hadid Pavilion, Photo by Daniel Bartel

Zaha Hadid's pavilion bears no such burden of material limitations. The ingenious system of fabric panels zippered together allows the cloth a snug fit over the bent aluminum frame. The zippers end up working with the hidden structure to create a system of contours that reinforces the futuristic shape. Despite its technical achievement, location and context seem irrelevant to Hadid's creation. While a reference to to Chicago's diagonal streets is mentioned in the design's explanation, it is only until a video is played on the interior that the pavilion's connection to Chicago seems more than arbitrary. The video itself is wonderfully engaging and informative, and the interior space provides a unique theater; but the sculpture's role is little more than a glorified movie screen. Perhaps if the pavilion's purpose was to demonstrate Hadid's deftness at using daring forms it would be more palatable, but for an installation that is to have some correlation to Chicago or Burnham's plan, Hadid seems to be the one on display. Even the way that people are to interact with the structure seems detached from the urban environment. There is an explicitly designated path to move from one portal to the other, ownership of experience does not reside with the visitor, but has been predetermined. The most intriguing experience of the pavilion is from afar, particularly at night, when the piece glows providing great contrast with the rigidity of the Michigan Avenue streetwall.

Perhaps Hadid's piece is a reaction to the true global nature of today's large cities, where the lines of context become blurred and architecture can exist as pure "form-making." However, for an exhibit that is supposed to be a celebration of Burnham's Plan, or at least the city it created, some recognition of its locality probably would have been more appropriate. In this regard, UNStudio's pavilion should be considered an absolute success. Their design merged an unique design sensibility with the loaded historical context of 100 years of urban life.

About the Author

Carl Giometti is a Gapers Block staffer who spends his days as an urban theorist disguised as an architect. He tries to professionally and socially associate with anyone else who can enthusiastically talk about public transportation. His wife, as evidence of her fervor for urban planning, is currently asleep with their two cats as he writes this.

 
GB store
GB store

Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

Blogroll

ACRE
An Angry White Guy
Antena
AREA Chicago
ArchitectureChicago Plus
Arts Engagement Exchange
The Art Letter
Art or Idiocy?
Art Slant Chicago
Art Talk Chicago
Bad at Sports
Bite and Smile
Brian Dickie of COT
Bridgeport International
Carrie Secrist Gallery
Chainsaw Calligraphy
Chicago Art Blog
Chicago Art Department
Chicago Art Examiner
Chicago Art Journal
Chicago Artists Resource
Chicago Art Map
Chicago Art Review
Chicago Classical Music
Chicago Comedy Examiner
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Daily Views
Chicago Film Examiner
Chicago Film Archives
Chicago Gallery News
Chicago Uncommon
Collaboraction
Contemporary Art Space
Co-op Image Group
Co-Prosperity Sphere
Chicago Urban Art Society
Creative Control
Defibrillator
Devening Projects
Digressions
DIY Film
ebersmoore
The Exhibition Agency
The Flatiron Project
F newsmagazine
The Gallery Crawl...
Galerie F
The Gaudy God
Happy Dog Gallery
HollywoodChicago
Homeroom Chicago
I, Homunculus
Hyde Park Artcenter Blog
InCUBATE
Joyce Owens: Artist on Art
J-Pointe
Julius Caesar
Kasia Kay Gallery
Kavi Gupta Gallery
Rob Kozlowski
Lookingglass Theatre Blog
Lumpen Blog
Marquee
Mess Hall
N'DIGO
Neoteric Art
NewcityArt
NewcityFilm
NewcityStage
Not If But When
Noun and Verb
On Film
On the Make
Onstage
Peanut Gallery
Peregrine Program
Performink
The Poor Choices Show
Pop Up Art Loop
The Post Family
The Recycled Film
Reversible Eye
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Roots & Culture Gallery
SAIC Blog
The Seen
Sharkforum
Sisterman Vintage
Site of Big Shoulders
Sixty Inches From Center
Soleil's To-Do's
Sometimes Store
Steppenwolf.blog
Stop Go Stop
Storefront Rebellion
TOC Blog
Theater for the Future
Theatre in Chicago
The Franklin
The Mission
The Theater Loop
Thomas Robertello Gallery
threewalls
Time Tells Tony Wight Gallery
Uncommon Photographers
The Unscene Chicago
The Visualist
Vocalo
Western Exhibitions
What's Going On?
What to Wear During an Orange Alert?
You, Me, Them, Everybody
Zg Gallery

GB store

 

Events


A/C on Flickr

Join the A/C Flickr Pool.



About A/C

A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Nancy Bishop, nancy@gapersblock.com
A/C staff inbox: ac@gapersblock.com

Archives

 

A/C Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15