DANIELBURNHAM AND URBAN DESIGN
DanielBurnham envisioned modern city planning as feasible through ambitiousvisions tempered with great civic sensitivity which could rectify thebad rap of urban design that resulted from overreaching of moderncity planning(Schaffer, 2010:2).He is credited for many architectural pioneer works in New York,Washington D.C, the great Chicago master piece skyscraper, inventinga large corporate architectural firm and pioneer of urban plan designdiscipline. In addition, his artistic works films, drawings,archival photos, footages and fly through animations were enoughevidence of his genius in built environment.
Scholarsdescribe him not only as a great physical artifact but also a socialand cultural artifact. His ideas and on city planning addressed manychallenges that face modern architectures and planners such assprawl, population growth and environmental degradation. He is alsocredited for his great generous philanthropy, leader of causes andfounder of institutions. His great works are the Flatiron Buildingin New York City, Union Station in Washington, and the great 1909Chicago plan document.
ThePlan of Chicago
TheChicago plan had great impact on the progress Exhibition of Chicagoas well as other cites which followed in commissioning Burnham planin the development of cities. Research indicates that, the image ofChicago plan as depicted in Burnham book was that of a city lush withcolor and rich with atmosphere. Schaffer observes that, the plan ofChicago as encapsulated in the text could only be understood bestwith the interpretation of Burnham’s spirituality. He is depictedas a dreamer and strong willed man who found joy in uplifting arts.In his career, Burnham strove for big projects in emulation of largebusiness corporations.
Theplan of Chicago recommended series of projects that involved newlarge streets, new railroads, parks, civic buildings and harborfacilities. However, only a portion of the plan proposals wasrealized but Burnham architectural document greatly influenced thearchitectural reshaping of central Chicago area as an integral partof city planning. Ideally, the concept of Chicago plan was inceptedby a group of prominent businessmen who envisioned changes in thefast growing city. The idea of Chicago plan had been hatched afterthe construction of the world Colombian exposition in Chicago byarchitect Daniel Burnham. After deliberation of his ideas with thebusiness men on how to improve Chicago’s lake front and city plansfor Washington D.C, Daniel Burnham together with Edward Bennetco-authored the manuscript of Chicago plan which was later presentedto the city in 1909 (Schaffer,1993: 29).
Theproject plan included six major aspects improvement of lake front,regional highway expansion, improvement of railway terminals, newerouter parks, systematic arrangement of streets and creation of civicand cultural centers. The proposal to improve the lake front,involved reclaiming the shores for public use. The plan advocated forexpansion of parks along the shoreline of Michigan, extensive harborfacilities which later became unnecessary with the creation of LakeCalumet regions (Schaffer,1993: 56).
Inanother front, the Chicago plan envisioned a regional highwayChicago was to expand 75 miles outward from the city centre. Itdiagrammed circumferential and radial highways for the region thoughthe builders of the highways in the 1910s to 1920s did not input anyBurnham’s idea along the recommended routes. Further, the Chicagoplan based its ideas on technical studies done previously on plan ofrailroads to pool tracks usage in freight handing efficiency(Schaffer,1993: 47).
Theplan also detailed consolidation of Chicago’s’ intercity railroadpassenger terminals to include new complexes in the west of loop andSouth of Roosevelt Road this was envisioned to enhance expansion ofthe business district southward. Notably, a new Chicago Union stationwas completed in 1925 following this plan but no other stations wererelocated or consolidated. In 1929, it is recorded that the southBranch of Chicago River was rechanneled between 18thstreets and Polk to enhance railroad construction as had beenenvisioned the Burnham’s Master Chicago plan (Smith,2006: 18).
Additionally,the proposal to preserve and purchase natural areas which became thecook County Forest Preserves had began fairly at the time of planwriting. In the plan are the 1870s call proposals to expand cityparks and Boulevard system. Newer and wider roads were proposed bythe plan as a way of relieving traffic congestion and beautifying thefast growing city by including network of diagonal streets in thewhole city. The diagonal construction of the Ogaden Avenue as well asother streets in the city was part of implementing Burnham’sChicago Plan (Schaffer,1993: 43).
Manyof the plan proposals were followed the renovation and widening ofMichigan Avenue, expansion of Roosevelt road, creation of theCongress Parkway and the Wacker drive. However, the growth inautomobile usage and traffic congestions after World War I, madeChicago city planners drift away from Burnham’s proposal on thestreet system (Schaffer,1993: 36).In his vision of 1908, Burnham saw use of automobiles as recreationalmeans which would enhance city dwellers vist their country side. Assuch his plan proposal on streets was in tandem with this idea hedid not envisage automobiles overwhelming the city(Moughtin, 1992: 23).
Notably,civic and cultural centers are the most iconic plan images that wereproposed for the Halsted and Congress Streets. However, the proposalwas never considered when designing loop location by the cityofficials (Wide,2013: 4).Burnham Chicago city plan had proposed a cultural centre at the GrantPark, Congress Street which would have become the central axis of thereshaped city. The cultural centre could have consisted of Fieldmuseum of natural history and new homes for the art institute ofChicago and the Crerar Library. This proposal, brought conflict fromcivic leaders and the court who forbade any buildings in the GrantPark(Schaffer, 1993: 40).
Itis recorded that, though Burnham died in 1912, the Plan of Chicagowas nonetheless promoted by the Chicago plan commission as well asthe commercial club members who beseeched the city mayor toappointing Burnham co-author of the Chicago plan, Edward Bennet inadvising various public agencies in implementing the plans proposal.Critical assessment of Burnham’s plan, advocated for social needsbut the final publication did not incorporate such ideas. The plancritics discredit the plan for its physical improvements in anattempt to create ‘Paris on the prairie’(Wide, 2013: 3).
Inaddition, it is observed that, the plan’s proposal for biginfrastructural projects were vital improvement in the rapidlygrowing city at time when expanding tax base made it feasible forsuch projects. However, this enthusiasm in Burnham’s Chicago planproject faded with the onset of the great depression though someaspects of the plan continued to guide city planners in the expansionof the parks, building of new bridges and laying of the superhighway network in the Chicago city. Interestingly, history records thatcivic leaders still refer to Burnham’s vision of the city in theaphoristic post humor associated with his quote ‘make no littleplans’(Smith, 2006: 20).Indeed Daniel Burnham’s artistic work in the Chicago Plan wasinstrumental in influencing city developers’ architectural designof various built environmental aspects in the city and its environs.
Moughtin,Cliff. ‘UrbanDesign: Street and Square’.Oxford: Butterworth Architecture, 1992. Print.
Schaffer,Kristin. ‘Introductionto Planof Chicago(reprint)’,Princeton Architectural Press, 1993. Print
Schaffer,K. `Thebeautiful and useful laws of God`:Burnham`s Swedenborgianism and the
Planof Chicago. PlanningPerspectives[serial online]. April 2010 25(2):243-252. Available from: AcademicSearch Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed May 9, 2014.
Smith,Carl S. ThePlan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American
City.Chicago: U of Chicago, 2006. Print
Wide Boulevards,‘NarrowVisions: Burnham’s Street System and the Chicago Plan Commission’,1909–1930. Journalof Planning History,2013. Print