Built by Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Frank Gehry and opened on July 16, 2004, the BP Bridge is a unique stainless steel pedestrian bridge that crossed downtown Chicago's Columbus Drive. It connects Bicentennial Plaza and Millennial Park and thereby allows pedestrian near lakefront views of Lake Michigan (obscured only by Lakeshore Drive). It spans an impressive 935 feet long and 20 feet wide and with its many curves and silver, shiny color, many believe it resembles a snake. It was named after BP energy, who donated five million dollars to its construction.
Backstory and Context
BP Bridge was the first bridge designed by famed architect Frank Gehry to be constructed. Gehry has designed bridges previously, although none of his prior designs had ever been built. “Millennium Park project manager Edward Uhlir said ‘Frank is just the cutting edge of the next century of architecture’, and noted that no other architect was being sought.”
Work began in June of 1999, and the final bridge was opened to the public on July 16, 2004. Its design fits seamlessly with the rest of the modern Millennium Park, particularly with the form and materials of the adjacent Pritzker Pavillion (which was also Gehry's creation). The BP Bridge consists of 9,000 stainless steel shingles, which are smaller versions of those found at the Pritzker Pavillion.
Gehry changed the design of the bridge multiple times but came up with his final plan in 2000. The initial design of the bridge was only supposed to be 170 feet, which was not approved by Mayor Richard Dailey. In response, Gehry developed ten more designs, some of which were scrapped immediately due to accessibility concerns.
The final design of the bridge removed the traditional handrails but maintained safety by maintaining a maximum slope of five percent. This feature allows access for people of all ages and physical abilities. Gehry use of sheet metal allows the bridge to hold a heavy load without problems within the structure caused by its weight. The overall aesthetic of the bridge and Gehry's architectural style is known for the allusions created by the sheet metal and abstract design.
It was also designed to decrease noise coming from traffic on Columbus Drive. “According to Architecture Metal Expertise, the bridge has 10,400 stainless steel trapezoidal panels in 17 different shop fabricated configurations involved 1,000 shop hours.” The only downfall of the design is its wooden walkway, which makes for difficult snow and ice removal in the winter.
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Millennium Park - BP Bridge Facts and Figures. o https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/millennium_park_-bpbridgefactsandfigures.html.
The Chicago Public art guide. https://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/dca/Public%20Art/publicartguide1.pdf.
BP Pedestrian Bridge, Architravel . Accessed December 17th 2019. https://www.architravel.com/architravel/building/bp-pedestrian-bridge/.
Kamin, Blair . BP Bridge, Chicago Tribune. July 18th 2004. Accessed December 17th 2019. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2004-07-18-0407180368-story.html.
BP Bridge Facts and Figures, City of Chicago. Accessed December 17th 2019. https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/millennium_park_-bpbridgefactsandfigures.html.
BP Pedestrian Bridge, SOM. Accessed December 17th 2019. https://www.som.com/projects/millennium_park__bp_pedestrian_bridge.