Millennium Park Master Plan

A visionary master plan for Chicago’s front yard transformed a vast section of land between downtown and Lake Michigan into one of the most visited spaces in the city.

Project Facts
  • Completion Year 2002
  • Design Finish Year 1999
  • Size Site Area: 17 acres
  • Awards
    2006, Institute Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design, American Institute of Architects (AIA) 2004, Outstanding Steel Structure, Canadian Institute of Steel Construction 2005, Award for Excellence: The Americas, Urban Land Institute (ULI) 2006, Award for Outstanding Large Project, American Society Of Civil Engineers 2006, Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement, Award of Merit, American Society Of Civil Engineers 2009, Silver Medal, Rudy Bruner Award
  • Collaborators
    Mcdonough Associates, Inc. Wolff Clements & Associates Frank O. Gehry Hammond Beeby Rupert And Ainge Schuler Shook, Inc. Teng & Associates, Inc. Talaske Group Thornton-Thomasetti Renzo Piano Harley Deveroux O'Donnell Wicklund Pigozzi & Peterson (Owp&P) Terry Guen Design Associates Incorporated Kathleen Gustafson
Project Facts
  • Completion Year 2002
  • Design Finish Year 1999
  • Size Site Area: 17 acres
  • Awards
    2006, Institute Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design, American Institute of Architects (AIA) 2004, Outstanding Steel Structure, Canadian Institute of Steel Construction 2005, Award for Excellence: The Americas, Urban Land Institute (ULI) 2006, Award for Outstanding Large Project, American Society Of Civil Engineers 2006, Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement, Award of Merit, American Society Of Civil Engineers 2009, Silver Medal, Rudy Bruner Award
  • Collaborators
    Mcdonough Associates, Inc. Wolff Clements & Associates Frank O. Gehry Hammond Beeby Rupert And Ainge Schuler Shook, Inc. Teng & Associates, Inc. Talaske Group Thornton-Thomasetti Renzo Piano Harley Deveroux O'Donnell Wicklund Pigozzi & Peterson (Owp&P) Terry Guen Design Associates Incorporated Kathleen Gustafson

An outdoor transformation

The 17-acre Millennium Park master plan guided the transformation of a once-blighted site in the heart of downtown Chicago into an expansive green roof for the entire city to enjoy. The park opened to the public in 2004, marking the completion of Daniel Burnham’s 100-year vision for the site.

SOM designed the master plan for the park, referencing Beaux Arts-style public spaces through its central promenade, great lawn, and monumental limestone peristyle. At the same time, many of Millennium Park’s features — Frank Gehry’s stainless-steel bandshell, Jaume Plensa’s interactive video installation and fountain, and Anish Kapoor’s captivating Cloud Gate sculpture — imbue the park with a decidedly contemporary feel.

Millenium Park Chicago
Craig Dugan © Hedrich Blessing

The comprehensive plan also addressed pragmatic concerns and the challenges of constructing a park above a warren of bus lanes, parking garages, and a rail yard. Below the great lawn, two new levels of parking were built, bus stops were added, and rail stations were renovated and expanded. These three systems of transit converge in an efficient, multi-modal center that has reduced and streamlined traffic congestion.

What was once a gritty, blighted site is now home to a glistening, cultural spectacle that delivers joy to its visitors.


Underground enhancements

Randolph Street Terminal, the commuter rail terminal located underneath the site of the new park since the 19th century, was once hemmed in by rail lines below ground and the street grid above. SOM utilized design, engineering, and lighting expertise to transform an uninviting space into a spacious and inspiring one.

Millennium Station
© Douglas Reid

To deal with low and uneven ceilings, SOM conceived a system of undulating, illuminated panels made of perforated stainless steel with a satin finish. The floor, made of blue and white terrazzo, is inlaid with graceful white lines that subtly direct passengers to train platforms.

Further improvements include new glassy storefronts and ticket booths with bands of LED above and below the counters. By integrating light, color, and high-quality finishes into the once-dilapidated station, SOM converted the aging rail terminal into a vibrant and efficient space. Upon completion it was renamed Millennium Station.

Millennium Station
© Douglas Reid
Millenium Park Chicago
© Douglas Reid

Sculpting a memorable pathway

The sinuous BP Pedestrian Bridge is a prominent feature in downtown Chicago, connecting Daley Bicentennial Plaza with Millennium Park. Snaking across Columbus Drive, the 935-foot-long bridge is one of several notable collaborations between SOM and Frank Gehry. In each of these projects, SOM engineers have played a critical role in developing structural systems that support the architect’s sculptural metal surfaces.

BP Bridge
© Peter Berreras

At both entrances, curving ramps made of reinforced concrete gently slope upward at a wheelchair-accessible angle of five degrees. Girders connected to underground parking garages help support this part of the bridge. To support the steel walkway as it passes over Columbus Drive, the SOM team created a central pylon anchored to the roadway’s median. SOM engineers succeeded in minimizing costs and materials while preserving the integrity of Gehry’s inventive design.

BP Bridge
© Peter Berreras
BP Bridge
© Peter Berreras

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