One of the nations
largest electric utilities is supporting solar energy in the next
millennium. Millennium Park, that is. Chicago, IL, electric utility
Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) and parent company Exelon Corp. are
making a $3 million joint donation for solar technology in Chicagos
Millennium Park, which is expected to be one of the worlds
most stunning public spaces. This effort aims to promote and showcase
renewable energy and helps bring Chicago closer to its goal of becoming
the countrys green capital.
Currently in the design phase, the project will create two pavilions
positioned on either side of the parks indoor Chicago Music
and Dance Theater. Construction began in fall 2003 and should be
completed in June 2004. Each 6,000-square-foot pavilion will also
utilize a 37.5-kilowatt (KW) Building Integrated Photovoltaic system
(BIPV). According to Edward Uhlir, Millennium Park project design
director, the decision to use BIPV was not only an architectural
plus, but also a practical solution over using a traditional solar
Since this is a park, the opportunity to have lots of roof
surfaces really doesnt exist. Even the Music and Dance Theater
is largely built underground, so the idea of using the PV in the
wall system made a lot of sense, said Uhlir. And we
thought if we could find the right system, it would be an attractive
façade for the building as well.
Hammond Beeby Rupert Ainge Architects (HBRA) is designing the pavilions
as two minimalist-style, black-glazed cubes. These glass façades
will integrate photovoltaic (PV) modules on the outside surfaces.
After extensive research and consultation, HBRA decided to use customized
mono-crystalline PV modules, modified to function within a curtain
wall system. A curtain wall is a non-load bearing exterior wall
that behaves as a screen. It can be made from a number of materials
such as brick, stone or, in this case, PV cells.
All of the black on the façades you see is PV. We think
it is perhaps the first of its kind in Chicago, perhaps even in
Illinois, said HBRA architect Cyrus Subawalla. The Exelon
Pavilions are being designed to be demure in stature and to urbanistically
blend in with the formal symmetries of the surrounding park landscape.
Subawalla also noted that the PV modules aim to meet the requirements
and standards of the National Electrical Code as well as the Chicago
Building Code. We consider this project a unique example that
addresses important architectural issues of sustainability, context
and simplicity, he said.
The energy generated will essentially power both pavilions, working
toward self-sufficiency and cost efficiency. In addition, the pavilions
double wall system will reduce energy consumption costs. Through
the walls ventilated cavity, each buildings heat loss
or gain will be minimized.
When completed, both pavilions will serve multiple roles of being
park public information centers and display zones for Exelon Corp.
and the Chicago Park District. Specifically, the West Pavilion will
have Exelon exhibit space, park offices and client specific amenities.
The East Pavilion will have additional exhibit spaces, including
information about the value of PV and how it generates power for
The pavilions are a portion of an overall city effort to build and
enhance Millennium Park. Funded by city and private funds, the Millennium
Park project is a joint venture intended to enhance park, recreation,
cultural and transportation facilities along Chicagos Lakefront.
Its a public-private partnership initiated by the Mayor
of Chicago, starting in 1997. The individual, privately-funded projects
within Millennium Park are what we call park enhancements, of which
the Exelon Pavilions are one of those, said Uhlir.
The park, two-thirds of which will be entirely new park land, covers
what was formally a surface parking lot and existing railroad tracks
and terminal, which remained. This had long been considered unsightly
space that occupied a major portion of the citys front
Although the Exelon Pavilions will not be completed until mid-2004,
parts of Millennium Park are already open to the public. These include
the popular McCormick Tribune Plaza and Ice Rink, the Millennium
underground parking garage, and a landscaped parkland of over 400
Other park enhancements currently under development include: the
indoor Chicago Music and Dance Theater designed by HBRA; an outdoor
Music Pavilion designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry; a 100-ton
reflective sculpture by artist Anish Kapoor; and a 2.5-acre garden
whose design was part of an international competition won by Gustafson
When completed, Millennium Park is expected to be Chicagos
newest world-class destination for families, tourists and convention-goers.
According to the Public Building Commission of Chicago, Millennium
Park will guarantee the city new jobs and revenues for decades to
come. Conservative estimates say it could generate $100 million
to $150 million of new tourist revenues each year.
Gabriela Martin is manager of environmental commitments at Commonwealth
Edison (ComEd) headquartered in Chicago, IL, and oversees renewable
energy project development at ComEd. This article was previously published
in the SEPA Record for the Solar Electric Power Association.