Until the late 1990s, the area that is downtown’s Millennium Park was a rather dreary-looking, albeit well-located, slice of real estate. Thanks to a highly ambitious (and hugely expensive, to the tune of $475 million) renovation project that long overran its original 2000 completion date, it’s a showcase for public art, landscape design and performing arts. Its twin artistic centrepieces are equally compelling. First is a stunning, seamless, stainless-steel sculpture officially titled Cloud Gate but universally known as “the Bean”, by British-based artist Anish Kapoor. Inspired by liquid mercury, it invites viewers to walk around, beside and even underneath it to enjoy spectacular and endlessly intriguing reflections of both the city and the sky above it. Nearby, Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa consists of two glass-brick towers set either side of a black granite plaza; giant video images of the faces of ordinary Chicagoans play across them both, and water spurts from them in summer at unexpected intervals to form a lake that’s usually filled with playing children. Further back, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion is an amazing open-air auditorium designed by Frank Gehry, who used mighty swirls and flourishes of steel to improve its acoustics. Finally the Lurie Garden features more than 26000 plants in total, representing more than 250 varieties native to the Illinois prairie.

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