The Pavilions were designed in January 2001 and construction began in January 2004. The South Pavilions were completed and opened in July 2004 and the North Pavilions were completed in November 2004, with a grand opening on April 30, 2005. In addition to producing energy, three of the four pavilions provide access to the park's below ground parking garages and the fourth serves as the park's welcoming center. Exelon, a company that generates the electricity transmitted by its subsidiary Commonwealth Edison, donated $5.5 million for the Pavilions.
The North Pavilions were designed as by Hammond Beeby Rupert Ainge Architects, with Thomas H. Beeby as lead designer. Beeby designed the North Pavilions to be in harmony with the neighboring Harris Theater, a performing-arts theater on the northern edge of Millennium Park. Beeby also served as a designer for the Harris Theater project. The 3-story Northwest Pavilion is the largest of the Pavilions with of solar energy surface, which is composed of 460 photovoltaic modules. The 2-story Northeast Pavilion has of solar energy surface, which is composed of 460 photovoltaic modules. They are located to the east and west of the Harris Theater, and are designed as minimalist black cubes. These pavlions are capable of producing of electricity annually.
The photovoltaic modules generate electricity to power much of the pavilions’ lighting. The North Pavilions received The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver rating from the United States Green Building Council in 2005. The North Pavilions are the first Chicago buildings to use building integrated photovoltaic cells, which are a solar energy system incorporated into the building's construction materials.
Each of the pavilions is layered with an outer recycled-aluminum curtain wall on the exterior. These contain specially designed mounted mono-crystalline photovoltaic modules and insulated glass. The Photovoltaic modules cover an air cavity in which convective air cycles as a result of radiant solar heat gain. The roof is waterproofed with a highly heat-reflective thermoplastic membrane that combats the urban heat-island effect. Several other construction materials are derived from renewable resources. The pavilions’ exterior canopies are partly lit by ground-lights that operate on photocells, activated at sunset.
The Millennium Park Welcome Center offers guides to the park, wheelchairs and is a venue for exhibitions on energy, parks and other themes. Interactive displays have educated visitors on renewable energy and the workings of the solar panels covering the pavilion. The exhibits have a touch screen interactive web-based component depicting the city's use of solar energy. The exhibits also have a dynamic multi-screen video presentation on electicity usage. The building's atrium includes a sculptural installation with backlit three two-way mirrors by Chicago-based artists Patrick McGee and Adelheid Mers that describes the links between the Earth’s atmosphere, the solar system and scientific applications.