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How a Cloud Gate became the Chicago Bean


How a Cloud Gate became the Chicago Bean

More commonly dubbed “The Chicago Bean,” Cloud Gate rests at the heart of The Windy City, in Millenium Park. Known for its distinctive kidney-bean shape and silver surfer polish, it is arguably the most famous landmark in Chicago.

The general public first glimpsed the Bean during its final creative stages. The round sculpture was created by artist Anish Kapoor and utilizes 72 stainless steel plates carefully placed to create the circular form.

Cloud Gate celebrates art & culture

Anish Kapoor, the British-Indian artist who designed Cloud Gate, wanted to create something that “would lead viewers to the vortex underneath it.” 

The vortex is in fact the reflective aluminum and white steel ring (from which “bean-like” skyscrapers protrude), but its importance lies in the possibility for visitors to “taste eternity,” and be “completely absorbed by it.” 

Cloud Gate illuminates the Chicago skyline bright at night with 100,000 LED lights.

And during the day, the gleaming stainless steel structure gracefully curves in on itself, beckoning visitors to come closer and examine their reflections. It’s fitting that the way you feel seeing it is different at night and in the day.

At a distance, Cloud Gate reflects the light and beauty of the Chicago skyline with a mesmerizing result. One that the artist describes as “powerful.” 

The Chicago Bean presents an artistic ambiguity that perfectly fits the monumental sculpture and its public art contemporaries. Either make it big, make it red or make it shiny. Bonus points if you can do multiples of those in the same piece.

Beyond the impact of the art, the garden surrounding it is designed to encourage walking in Chicago. It’s a pleasant place to sit, and the thoughtfulness of the plants suggests the artist’s approach. The paths are marked by the neighborhood’s history, starting with roots that first turned up in wetlands along the Chicago River and ending with a bench where, as the article describes, “you can sit on the grass, stare at the sky and think.”

The garden also has a center piece for various projects related to Chicago Public Art, and it even has a mission statement that is surprisingly Buddhist in its strength:

From the living bones of the earth, living creatures arise, growth, and decay. Life and death. Light and darkness. Life and death. That is eternal. Unchanging and unchanging. It is in peace and the recognition of these truths that the foundation of life is established. As the day turns to night, the living grow calm. As the night turns to day, the living begins again.

Master of Silver Bean Chicago

Kapoor is an exceptional artist in a variety of materials, from stone and wax to mirrors. Cloud Gate is his largest outdoor installation and a reflection of his interest in negative space. Which he describes as, “The void, the moment when it isn’t a hole. It is a space full of what isn’t there.”

Kapoor says of his work on the sculpture, “Cloud Gate reflects the space around it, the city of Chicago. People visit the sculpture for so many experiences. To get married, to meet friends, to take selfies, to dance, to jump, to engage in a communal experience.

Cloud Gate - The Bean - Chicago
Cloud Gate, also known as “The Bean,” is a favorite stop in Chicago. [Photo by Ravi Patel/Unsplash]

The Chicago Bean is a mirrored form, simultaneously engulfing and intimate. The silver bean Chicago brings the viewer in close. With just the light from the sky above, the great bean reflects the sky in color, bright against the horizon. The contrast of bright and dark along with the shimmering light and shadow makes this work one of the standouts.

And judging by the number of people that visit it every day (two-hundred million to date); the Bean seems to carry the potential to communicate a sense of wonder.”

Nonetheless, Kapoor attributes the popularity of the Chicago bean to its adoring residents and tourists, saying, “A mirror of self and other, both private and collective, Cloud Gate—or the ‘Bean’ as it often affectionately referred to—is an inclusive work that engages public participation.

“Its success has little to do with me, but rather with the thousands of residents and visitors who have adopted it and embraced it as their Bean. Cloud Gate has become a democratic object in a space that is free and open to all.”

Anish Kapoor

So while Cloud Gate is certainly an artistic achievement of design and engineering, it ultimately reflects the Chicago community it represents. And as a prominent symbol of one of the most memorable works of public art in the country.

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How does a Chicago Bean grow so fast

While the Chicago Bean was designed for residents and visitors to enjoy, it required in a concrete foundation to prevent any damage to the old central business district. Erecting the Bean involved digging a 26-foot-deep, 48-foot-wide hole, compressing the soil and pouring in concrete.

It took almost a year to dig. The Bean was in place in November 2003 and opened to the public just over a year later in August 2004. It weighs an impressive 110 tons and cost $23 million to construct.

The big question, as you can imagine, is “How did they do it?”

Despite the advanced technology they had access to, the workers had to find an unusual technique to cut steel.

The Bean is made up of 500,000 pounds of steel, 180,000 pounds of concrete, 500 linear feet of granite blocks, and 4,000 linear feet of steel cables. To achieve a large flat surface, workers used a laser-guided 3D laser cutter to cut and shape the 30 panels of stainless steel.

And using special saws they were able to cut the oversized panels to fit over the Bean’s surface. The process took over 100 hours of work. It required numerous weeks to smooth the surface and smooth out the wrinkles.

The massive sculpture, modeled to resemble the fluidity of liquid mercury, requires cleaning twice a day. A necessity to rid the sculpture of “gifts” left by Millennium Park’s resident bird population and fingerprints left by visitors.

A Cloud Gate to Chicago Public Art

Visitors from near and far can find Cloud Gate inside AT&T Plaza, within Millennium Park in the heart of downtown Chicago. And a visit to Millennium Park has an amazing combination of stunning architecture, sculpture, and landscape design.

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