Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Daniel Burnham Saved From Drowning

We're embarking on a new series, Chicago 2019, in which we hope to draw on the lessons of the past year, including the city's bid for the 2016 Olympics, and the Burnham Plan Centennial celebration, to start talking about where we go from here.

Tomorrow, or soon thereafter, we hope to publish our post mortem on how the architectural elements of the celebration played out as the year went on, but for today, we give you . . .

Daniel Burnham Saved from Drowning
For now, we're beginning with an expanded - and copiously illustrated - version of the Burnham piece I wrote for the Chicago Reader earlier this year, in which we attempt to rescue Daniel Burnham from the murky waters of the sea of adulation marking this year's centennial celebration of his 1909 Plan of Chicago. This is Burnham with the bark off, and a tale of how the architectural component of the celebration was hijacked by academics and ideologues who were about as far from the spirit of Daniel Burnham as nature allows. Read the full story in all its gory detail, follow the links to all things Burnham, and see the images here.


mgerwing said...

Thanks for the great article, very interesting. Burnham was a great planner and a slightly-better-than-average architect, certainly not one of the great Chicago architects.
The invited-only secretive competition for the Burnham memorial was a joke. Very sad.
And, there is nothing sacred about a "Chicago" school of architecture, but acting like it didn't exist ridiculous, - walk around a bit and look around you. New buildings in the city may want to speak to a more global context than to local, Chicago architecture, but to deny its existence, if not its influence and applicability in a celebration of Burnham is absurd.

pc said...

Good work. Somehow, "Burnham the Addam-ite socialist" was a meme that I'd never picked up on; I'll have to check out Schaffer's essay sometime.

BTW, a typo: Rosa's quoted as referring to Burnham's understanding of Hanuman's thoughts. Hanuman is a Hindu monkey god (Haussmann was Napoleon III's imperious prefect), and the mental image thus presented is quite amusing.

Lynn Becker said...

thanks for the tip, pc. correction made. (although a city planned by the Hindu monkey God would probably be a great improvement.)

W. Bagnuolo said...

I think you'd have to consider him as much better than average. What about the Flatiron Bldg?

Mario said...

Great article.

I own two copies of the "Plan of Chicago": The Princeton Press edition (with Kristen Schaffer intro), and the Centennial Edition.

I also own the Carl Smith book, and "The Plan of Chicago @ 100" collection of essays.

I agree that Burnham was a very poor prophet. He completely missed the significance of the automobile, and how it would really drive development for the next 50 years. Bennett, having outlived Burnham, had to revise a lot the ideas from the plan to accommodate the automobile. Even then, some of his better concepts were not executed for the sake of expediency and cost.

I do think that some of the diagonals would have worked very well if they had been built the way they were outlined in the Plan. Ogden Ave's failure was that it missed the main intersections it was supposed to link in the original Plan.

As great a work of art and research as it was, the Plan was about 30 or 40 years too late in presenting the ideal 19th century city.