A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
From the room he occupied for years in the old Cliff Dwellers' Club atop Orchestra Hall, Louis Sullivan could have looked out his window and seen, with the aid of a time machine, Frank Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion band shell in Millennium Park. The man who wrote "form follows function" would have contemplated the work of a man who seems to believe that form is function.
Although the band shell functions as a stage for performances, most of its visitors probably regard it first of all as sculpture. By the same token, Gehry's most famous work, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, has been accused of one-upping the art inside. Certainly when I visited in 2001, the Giorgio Armani career retrospective on the third level was hard-pressed to hold its own against the building containing it.
"Logotecture," one of Gehry's critics calls the Chicago band shell. The charge is that Gehry, having designed some brilliant buildings, is now ripping himself off to provide one city after another with its very own Gehry. This is a cheap shot. Mies van der Rohe attempted as nearly as possible to do the same thing over and over again, only more elegantly. Is there an enormous difference between his residential high-rises at 860 and 880 Lake Shore Dr. and his IBM Building? No, but it's not logotecture, and neither is Gehry. An architecture critic has the opportunity to travel widely and become jaded by many Gehry buildings. The average person regarding the band shell is looking at the only Gehry he or she will see in their lifetime.
Well, not quite the only: Gehry also designed the elegant bridge connecting Millennium Park with the gardens on the east side of Columbus Drive. One day as I was visiting the park, it occurred to me that if Anish Kapoor's vast "Cloud Gate" has been universally renamed The Bean, then obviously Gehry's bridge is The Snake. And what is the band shell? Stand at the south end of the lawn, notice the web of arches that enclose the space and carry the sound, and observe the shell crouching at the other end. The Spider, obviously.