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History of the Chicago Bean

The Chicago Bean is one of the major attractions in the city. Cloud Gate, commonly known as the Bean, is one of the most popular photographed attractions in the city for locals and tourists who visit Chicago to see its iconic sights.

It reflects the city’s beautiful skyline and is arguably the best spot for a picture in Millennium Park. The sculpture was revealed to the public in 2006, two years after the widely visited Millennium Park opening. Over time, it has become a symbol of the city.

The following is a part of the history of the Chicago Bean at the City’s downtown park and how it became of the best attractions with a photo-taking opportunity since the opening of Millennium Park.

The 'Bean' Scultpure Chicago Illinois

The Chicago ‘Bean’ titled ‘Cloud Gate’ Was Completed in February 2004 and is Considered a Chicago landmark.

What is Cloud Gate?

Before it was given an official moniker, Chicagoans dubbed the reflective steel sculpture “The Bean” due to its closed curve form. However, its official title is “Cloud Gate.”

About 80 percent of the Cloud Gate sculpture surface reflects the sky and bends the reflection down into a gate shape.

The sculpture’s underside concave chamber prompted the sculptor to name the piece Cloud Gate. Cloud Gate or the Bean is a public sculpture shaped like a bean, made by the artist Sir Anish Kapoor. Today, the sculpture is the central and focal point in Millennium Park.

The Bean is made of 168 stainless steel plates that have been welded together. Millennium Park’s centerpiece was unveiled in 2004, during the Park’s opening. The exterior is highly polished and is entirely seamless, which is part of the reason it reflects its surroundings so well.

The size of the Bean is 33 by 55 by 42 feet. It weighs around 110 tons.

Bean History: The Inside Story behind Cloud Gate

According to a Chicago Tribune article from 2011, the city’s mayor was at his dentist appointment when he realized that the train department across the office was an eyesore.

So, he decided that there should be a park here to beautify the area. That’s how Millennium Park came into being along with the Bean. As per the terms, the permanent public outdoor work with its closed curve shape will be there until 3006.

Many Chicagoans were critical of the highly polished exterior artwork at first, especially since it was erected during the Park’s opening in 2004. However, it was still under construction during the inauguration of the Park.

Anish Kapoor did not finish the shiny exterior monumental work until May 2006, when the sculpture’s silvery surface became a magical visual to behold.

Chicago: The Artist Behind the Chicago Bean

The Bean was created by the Indian-born British sculptor Anish Kapoor, who uses reflective surfaces and geometric shapes in all the London-based artist’s designs.

The Cloud Gate was the first of Kapoor’s work installed in the United States and paid by private donors.

When the Millennium Park was inaugurated, back in 2004, the Bean was still under construction. However, the Bean’s reflective surface was later revealed to the public in 2006.

Anish Kapoor designed the piece, but engineering and construction firm Buro Happold handled fabrication.

The Chicago Park District has two other pieces by Anish Kapoor, the Pritzker Pavilion and the Lurie Garden. They are both parts of Millennium Park as well.

How Much the Bean Cost in Chicago

Originally, it was expected that the Chicago Bean would cost $6 million. However, its cost exceeded the original estimates, going up to $23 million. Many donors picked up this difference along the way, giving Chicagoans a new symbol for the city.

A lot of controversies surrounded the Bean when it was initially proposed. Many people were extremely critical about the expenditure, not to mention that they considered it an eyesore.

However, it was not until its construction was complete that residents realized how truly magnificent it was.

The Bean’s Design and Shape

The Bean’s mirrored surface is 100% reflective, which means that it reflects the surroundings of downtown Chicago.

It is made of two large metal rings with steel plates that are completely seamless. The Bean’s shape is created by its concave chamber that accentuates how the sculpture’s surface reflects the Chicago Sky in the early morning.

The Cloud Gate Bean as a Public Art Piece

Since the opening of Millennium Park behind the Park Grill Restaurant above McCormick Tribune Plaza, the area has been criticized as being an elitist place. It is frequented by people who are wealthier than the average Chicagoan.

Regardless of this, it offers a spectacular view for everyone in the northwest corner of the Park. It is a unique destination of the lakefront park green space that is well worth the visit!

What Does the Chicago Bean Represent?

The Chicago Bean is in the downtown Loop community area, situated in Millennium Park as a famous symbol among the city’s incredible skyline. The reflective surface of the sculpture was inspired by liquid mercury.

Its unique reflective properties of the high arch reflect visitors who are moving in Millennium Park along with the city’s skyline, green spaces, and Michigan Avenue’s light.

Since the sculpture is shaped like a bean, it has a curved underside, allowing visitors to go underneath it and view their reflection. That is why the British artist named it Cloud Gate.

When you walk under the curvature, the reflection can capture Chicago’s beautiful skyline and give the illusion of a gateway into the clouds.

Visitors can also touch the public art at Millennium Park since it was meant to be an interactive experience. Moreover, you can walk underneath it, touching the sides of the sculpture.

Cleaners come several times a day and wipe off the fingerprints using cleaners’ polish to keep the Bean in its pristine condition.

Moreover, the maintenance team comes twice a year to buff and polish the entire sculpture, maintaining its condition.

Why Is It Called the Bean?

The official name of this sculpture is Cloud Gate, but the locals and tourists call it the Bean. The Park opened in 2004, and people started visiting the area while the Bean was still under construction.

However, since Anish Kapoor did not title any of his works before completing them, there was no name for the sculpture for two years. In this duration, the locals started calling it the Bean since its shape resembled a bean. Over time, the nickname stuck. The structure is still lovingly called The Bean.

The Reflective Steel Sculpture Material

The Bean, in all its glory, stuns visitors regularly. The shiny and reflective exterior surface of the sculpture is due to a stainless-steel build. Computer technology was used to perfect the assembly and cutting of the shape to precision.

One hundred sixty-eight steel plates were used in making this structure. They were welded and fitted together to give the sculpture a seamless finish.

On the inside, the Bean has two metal rings that form a grid-like network, stabilizing the structure’s shape. The exterior structure is attached to the interior grid through flexible connectors that let the Bean contract and expand as the weather and temperatures change.

The mechanism and truss framework of Kapoor’s design is like constructed bridges and railway tracks.

Many people wonder how such a huge structure stands on two base points in the green space in McCormick Tribune Plaza. It’s due to the thoughtful design of the Bean. It allows the massive, weighted structure to stabilize two base points, creating a bean shape.

As a result, there is a concave area under the Bean where people can walk or stand to take pictures. The sculptor wanted the Bean to be an interactive experience, so the design was made this way.

What’s Inside It?

When people see the Bean, one of the first questions that come to mind is what’s inside it. During the construction of the Bean, engineers had the difficult task of choosing the right material.

They wanted to make sure the structure was not too hot to touch during the summer season. Also, the material would expand and contract with weather changes. So, they had to choose a material that could cope with these changes.

Thus, they took inspiration from the methods used in the shipbuilding industry. The Bean’s interior contains a wooden structure that allows the sculpture to expand and contract in response to the weather changes without collapsing.

Contrary to what most people think, there is nothing else in the monumental work. If you were to see through the stainless steel, you would only see the structural elements. However, back when it was being constructed, there was a rudimentary construction office on the inside.

Can You Go Inside the Chicago Bean?

As exciting as that prospect sounds, you cannot go inside the large-scale outdoor works. The sculpture is seamless as the steel plates have been welded into place. So, there is no way for you to go inside it.

However, you can go underneath the public art and marvel at the multiple reflections of the beautiful surroundings south of Monroe Street.

How to Take Pictures at the Chicago Bean

Taking pictures at the public sculpture is quite an easy task. No matter where you stand, you can expect to see the surroundings reflected in your picture.

For the best photograph, position yourself towards the west side of the Bean that faces Michigan Avenue. Doing so will reflect the surrounding high-rise buildings in the Bean, which will look magnificent in your picture.

Some of the buildings that you can see from this angle include the Chicago Cultural Center and the Aon Center.

If you want to have some fun with your pictures, stand under the Bean and take selfies. The unusual reflective angles will give you the kind of compositions that you normally get from quirky camera filters.

Alternatively, you can stand right underneath the Bean and have someone take a picture of you. The photograph will show the buildings behind and in front of you reflected in the sculpture’s stainless-steel exterior surface.

If you want to capture the perfect Instagram picture, go to the Park in the early morning. The sun rises off the beautiful Lake Michigan, reflecting marvelously in the Bean. Also, the morning light reflects beautifully, giving your picture a natural tint.

How the Bean Looks at Night

The Bean’s reflective surfaces of the surrounding skyline at Millennium Park are in full blow even at night. So, you can experience the city’s energy along with the Michigan Avenue skyline in the sculpture. But if you want to take pictures, come in the evening as the light is perfect during that time.

The Millennium Park closes at 11 pm, so you have plenty of time to spend at the Bean before going out for some late-night adventures downtown.

Final Words

The Chicago Bean at Millennium Park is undeniably one of the most breathtaking sculptures in the US, if not the world. Visitors to Chicago have the sculpture as a must-visit on their list, while the locals often visit it.

If you’re planning on visiting Chicago in summer, know that the weather may be a bit hot, but you get to see many cultural events happening in the city. In addition, the spring and fall time temperatures are relatively moderate, allowing you to spend more time outside.

All you need to do is come prepared for some more layers, get your camera ready and head out to the city for a photoshoot at the Bean.

More Information

The Chicago Bean in Millennium Park is located between Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street. From Randolph Street, enter The Art Institute of Chicago’s driveway on Columbus Trail. The Art Institute is located west of Michigan Avenue, so you’ll see the Bean on your left.

If you are heading north on Columbus drive, you won’t have to cross over Randolph Street. The Chicago Bean at Millennium Park is open every day from 6 am to 11 pm. Unfortunately, the Park closes at 11 pm too, so if you want to see the Bean at night, you’ll have to head out from the Park after 11 pm.

The Bean is also included in Millennium Park’s free admission on Tuesdays from 12 pm until 7 pm and Wednesdays from 12 pm until 8 pm.

The Bean might be an outdoor art display, but it can be enjoyed in any weather. On the other hand, if you want to avoid the crowds on a Thursday-Sunday visit, go during the early morning or late evening hours.

Don’t forget to visit the Bean if you find yourself in Chicago any time soon.