Art Institute bridge serves as platform for Children’s Museum support
Civic leaders expressed support for a controversial children’s museum move as they broke ground Thursday for a pedestrian bridge that will connect Millennium Park with the Art Institute’s new wing by famed architect Renzo Piano.
Directors of the Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier want to relocate the attraction to a section of Grant Park along Randolph Street, across from the northeast corner of Millennium Park. Art Institute board of trustees Thomas J. Pritzker said the cultural project would enhance his institution’s plans to connect with the southern half of Millennium Park.
“By the time the Olympics come to Chicago,” he said, referring to the city’s 2016 bid, “our visitors will be able to walk from one of the great museums in the world … to one of the great parks in the world -- and then I hope over the BP Bridge to one of the great children’s museums in the world.”
The Frank Gehry-designed BP Bridge over Columbus Drive joins Millennium Park’s band shell with the section of Grant Park where the private children’s museum would be built.
Local Ald. Brendan Reilly announced this week he would not support putting a children’s museum there, saying Grant Park should remain open -- as Chicago visionaries had intended more than a century ago.
His remarks followed suggestions by Mayor Richard Daley on Monday that opponents, fearing an influx of minority children, were opposing the educational museum on racial grounds. The proposed site is near expensive high-rise residences.
Daley said he would try to lobby other aldermen to overrule Reilly’s wishes, setting the stage for a volatile showdown. He attended Thursday’s ceremony in Millennium Park but did not address the topic.
Major donor John D. Nichols endorsed the proposed children’s museum. The retired industrialist and his wife, Alexandra, are the namesakes of the Nichols Bridgeway that will span Monroe Avenue to the Art Institute.
Nichols said Millennium Park, which was completed in 2004, has brought all kinds of cultures and classes together.
“I come to the definition of the bridgeway as being, really, connectivity,” he said. “This town and this country are going to need something ... in the sense of bringing the continually changing world together.”
Piano, an Italian architect who designed the Art Institute’s new wing, described his accompanying steel bridge as a “razor” or a “sword.” The gently sloping pathway will run 600 feet upward from the park to the third floor of his Modern Wing, which will offer a public sculpture plaza and dining facilities.
“I really do love bridges … they connect things,” Piano said. “It’s exactly the opposite of walls. The walls divide, the bridge connects.”
His bridge is expected to be ready for pedestrians in spring 2009, when the Art Institute expansion opens. Officials said construction would not hinder most activity at Millennium Park, a sprawling attraction that draws more than 2 million people each year.
Pritzker announced that $300 million has been privately raised for the Art Institute project. The museum needed $283 million to build the structures, and additional money would go toward an endowment, a spokeswoman said.
Mike Ramsey can be reached at (312) 857-2323 or email@example.com.