Millennium Park, Chicago, USA

Commissioned by: The Public Art Program, Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Chicago, 2000


Glass, stainless steel, LED screens, light, wood, black granite and water

2 towers of 16 meter high upon a water sheet of 70 x 14 meter in a total surface of 2.200 m2

What is a fountain? How is it relevant to the people who will see it? Why build it? When deciding upon an artist to tackle these questions, there was a desire to the both visionary and to also acknowledge the rich historical context. Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa (Barcelona 1955) was chosen because his work is principally focused on the human experience of standing in between, so-to-speak, between past and present, present and future, knowledge and ignorance, heaven and hell.

I have always maintained that sculpture has more to do with time than with such secondary problems as scale or space. This concept of time as the sediment of experiences within a general memory where or recollections also fit. The finished work begins it own cycle, and just like another memory it becomes linked to the vaster memory, in which no chronology makes sense. Time is the substance of my work.

Plensa was immediately captivated by the chance to co-opt an ancient, historical symbol, a fountain, a meeting place where once people came to obtain water, the substance of life, exchanged ideas, learned of each other's accomplishments, consoled one another in their losses and celebrated their common humanity. Why not still?

Located as it is near street-level along Chicago's bustling Michigan Avenue at the corner of The Art Institute in Chicago's Millennium Park, visitors may be initially struck by the transformative serene setting, surrounded by trees, but also enveloped by the walls of neighboring skyscrapers. The two fifty-foot-high illuminated glass towers of Plensa's monumental Crown Fountain are united by a black granite skin pool measuring 232 feet long by 48 feet wide but only 1/8 inch deep. The two glass towers of the fountain may be the first indication that dualities, elements engaged in a constantly evolving dialogue, are at the heart of experience Plensa seeks to create. These dualities are both formal, as in the vertical of the towers and horizontality of the granite plaza surrounding them, the hardness of the stone and the softness of the water, and they are also conceptual. The latter very much exemplified by the ongoing dialogue between the faces of the 1000 Chicago residents displayed on the facing LED screens within the towers, The faces intermittently emerge from the flow of water and become for a few moments a kind of contemporary interpretation of a "gargoyle" by spouting water from their mouths. The artist is a sort of playful but thought provoking way that here we momentarily become the givers of life, which he feels to be one of our most profound desires. The emphasis is always on communication, conversation and interaction - the purpose of a meeting place.

The ability to truly walk on water is also among the thrilling elements of the design. Plensa provides this opportunity through the very thin layer of water that covers the plaza area between and surrounding the towers.  As in nature, in this fountain water falls down, but does not shoot up and the sound of water falling is magnetic. Furthering this sensation are images of nature interspersed among the faces of people. Even the benches that face each other from opposite sides of the fountain exist in order to further underline the concepts of communication and duality and their material, wood, helps to express the idea of the integral connection between nature and man through the subtlety of touch when people are seated.

Plensa has worked with a large team of very dedicated and talented individuals to realize his vision in the kind of collaboration that can be both harrowing and highly rewarding for an artist. There is no question that the Crown and Goodman families, whose initial vision and ongoing generosity are the reason for the project as they set the tone for an unusual and groundbreaking effort to address the meaning of a public space in the 21st century.

Some of the principal members of the professional team working on the Crown Fountain are U.S. Equities, project managers, Krueck & Sexton Architects, Halvorson & Kaye, structural engineer, ESD, mechanical engineer, Crystal Fountains, water engineering technology, Schuler & Shook, lighting. Shen, Milson & Wilke, screen technology, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, image content production, W.E. O'Neil, general contractor. Major suppliers include Barco, LED display, Circle Redmont, glass block assembler, L.E. Smith Glass, glass block fabricator.

Latest works of the artist.