Little more than four years after its opening, a 500 foot long strip of Millennium Park is again under construction, for a period projected to be almost two years. On September 20th, a groundbreaking took place for the Nichols Bridgeway (is that anything like a Westfield Shoppingtown?), named after John Nichols, former chairman of Marmon Group, and his wife Alexandra, who've contributed a total $19,000,000 to both the Bridgeway and to the Art Institute of Chicago's Modern Wing, for which the fund-raising is at $300 million and counting.
Both the 264,000 square-foot Modern Wing and the Bridgeway, hereafter known as "the bridge", were designed by architect Renzo Piano, and are scheduled to be completed in tandem in mid-2009. "The bridge," designed to suck Millennium Park visitors into the museum like a giant anteater, is Miesian minimalist, a 15-foot-wide platform rising in a straight line across its 615-foot length to the height of the Modern Wing's third floor, on the south side of Monroe Street.
The Nichols is the yang to the ying of the Millennium Park's BP Bridge, designed by Frank Gehry. The BP snakes and meanders; the Nichols is straight as an arrow. The BP is stout like a robust peasant, the Nichols is a bare-bones supermodel and the runway she walks down, all in one. The BP is earth, hugging the ground atop a continuous berm, the Nichols is sky, an aerie perched upon toothpick pilotti's. The impact on the park of those pilotti supports remains to be seen; renderings have a habit of placing them behind trees and shrubbery functioning as fig leaves.
The Nichols is a very expensive solution to what could have been accomplished at a tiny fraction of the cost with some graceful landscaping and a precisely coordinated stoplight, but we are promised that we will all be inextricably drawn to the Nichols and enthralled by the views it affords of the surrounding park, lake, and cityscape. The Art Institute is banking that as many as 300,000 of us will supplement the museum's current annual attendence, as well.
Right now, a rather unlovely chain link fence marks off the construction site along Monroe, and high walls separate it from the rest of the park. The museum is doing their part to make the intrusion slightly more palatable by decorating those walls with a series of reproductions comparing works destined to grace the walls of the Modern Wing, by artists from Gauguin, to Sullivan, to Lichtenstein and Twombly, to flowers you're likely to find in the Lurie Garden and the park.
On a related note, the museum has added a "check here first" page on its website giving a month-by-month breakdown on which collections and galleries will be closed or partially available as they are renovated and/or reinstalled as part of the run-up to the 2009 opening of the new addition.