3 facts about Chicago’s Cloud Gate (that surprised and impressed me)

From my discover USA travel series | Read other chapters – See photo gallery

The Cloud Gate (nicknamed ‘the bean’) is a public sculpture in downtown Chicago’s Millenium Park.

Chicago’s Cloud Gate is considered to be one of the top works of art around the world. The sculpture is beautiful bean-shaped object of giant proportions, with 168 highly polished stainless steel plates welded together seamlessly, creates an illusion of a drop of mercury. I absolutely loved this piece of art, it’s as good as a destination by itself! The $23 million project proudly adores downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park, reflecting and projecting the city’s impressive skyline on different surfaces.

While researching about the Bean, I stumbled upon few fascinating details that I thought of sharing here.

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The manufacturer that was chosen to fabricate the Cloud Gate was initially planning to build and assemble the structure in Oaklaknd, Califormia. The structure comprised of numerous metal plates that had to be bent and shaped precisely and the joints would then be welded together to create a smooth surface. The contract was awarded based on the company’s expertise in producing nearly invisible welds.

The assembled Cloud Gate was then slated to travel by sea from California, via the Panama canal and the St. Lawrence seaway, passing through Lake Ontario (and close to Toronto), to Chicago, where it would then be erected. Looking up the nautical charts (pdf) by US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, I calculated the total distance between San Fransisco, Californa to Chicago, Illinois by water transport to be approximately 7,765 mi or 12,500 km.

However, concerns of damage prompted the project managers to reconsider their decision to ship the completed structure by sea. Instead, individual parts were transported by trucks, via land, to Chicago to be assembled on site. Thus the Bean travelled in fragments between the two cities by road, a distance of 2,132 mi or 3,430 km which was 3.7x shorter than the water transport.


The Cloud Gate is essentially a huge and shiny mirror that reflects the sky and the city’s skyline. As you can imagine, it is challenging to keep the steel Bean gleaming between sweltering summers and frosty winters. Advances in metallurgy have certainly strengthened the resistance characteristics of structural stainless steel over the years, but you need to do more than that.

The lower 6 feet (1.8 m) of the structure’s surface is wiped down twice a day by hand using a surface cleaning solvent that gets rid of fingerprints, oiliness, dew streaks and other dirt that accumulates on the Cloud Gate which is visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors every day. In addition, the entire sculpture is cleaned and washed twice a year with 40 U.S. gallons (150 litres) of liquid detergent. This process calls for the use of specialized equipment and safety features.


The Cloud Gate aims to evoke immateriality and the spiritual through the shine and reflectivity of its surface. The structure’s design is also very peculiar and seeks to create a sense of duality: sky-earth, internal-external and reality-reflection. The convex portion opens up to the sky and reflects the universe, while the concave portion (under the bean) invites the visitors and multiplies their reflections.

The underside of the bean is the omphalos (Greek for navel) and a visitors themselves become a part of the artwork when they enter this chamber. With multiple reflections that move in a fluid manner, it appears to create the illusion of solid being transformed into fluid, thus intensifying the experience. According to the Greek mythology, Zeus sent out two eagles to fly across the world to meet at its center, the navel of the world.

Since his visit to India in 1979, the artist supposedly formed a preoccupation with fundamental polarities which are commonly found in Hindu and Buddhist spirituality. Primal dualities that are one, such as the lingam and yoni, are common religious themes in India, and Cloud Gate portrays both the male and female in one entity by symbolizing both the vagina and testicles.

The experience of opposites allows for the expression of wholeness.
– Anish Kapoor in the book Past, present and future.

What I wanted to do in Millennium Park is make something that would engage the Chicago skyline, so that one will see the clouds kind of floating in, with those very tall buildings reflected in the work – A. Kapoor

No wonder Chicagoans are so proud of the Cloud Gate, or the Bean, as it is commonly known. Did you visit this place? What were your thoughts?

From my discover USA travel series | Read other chapters – See photo gallery