Chicago celebrates Burnham Centennial

June 16, 2009 (CHICAGO) "If you are in Chicago, you are in the Burnham Plan. If you are on Michigan Avenue, you're in the Burnham Plan. If you're walking on the bi level of Wacker Drive, that's from the Burnham Plan, and if you are in our 26 miles of lake front parks you are in the Burnham Plan," said Emily Harris, Burnham Plan Centennial Executive Director, quoting Chicago blogger Patrick Reardon.

From the lakefront parks and riverwalks to the diverse architecture, Chicago historian Jill Grannan says that the Burnham Plan is a true masterpiece.

"I think we certainly benefit from his vision today, of course," said Grannan. "He transformed Chicago out of the ruins of the Great Fire into this beautifully gorgeous White City and really made a commitment to development of the lakefront while preserving it at the same time. His work put Chicago on the map. He saw an incredible potential here, and people from around the world looked to Chicago to make an impact on their cities."

Chicago Metropolis 2020, a regional planning organization, is celebrating the Burnham Centennial with two temporary pavilions in Millennium Park. The group hopes they will promote future plans for the city of Chicago.

"So often people hear 'planning' and they sort of yawn and say, 'That's for someone else to do.' Really the whole idea is to get people to understand that it is their future we are talking about and that they need to jump on the bandwagon. So, the pavilions in Millennium Park are some very visible ways to do that [by urging people to] think outside the box, be creative, and think about architecture and design, and think about what it is you'd like for the future," said Harris.

The pavilions, which are designed by Zaha Hadid of London and Ben Van Berkel Amsterdam, will walk the public through a future of new possibilities for architecture and public space in Chicago. The pavilions celebrate bold plans and big dreams-- both for which Burnham was known.

Burnham said, "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood." While Burnham's big plan of 1909 may stand as his legacy in Chicago, his styles of architecture should not be overlooked, according to Grannan. While many architects are known for a certain style, Burnham was a man of many.

"In my view it is more complex. He was interested in patterns of facing where you would create a pattern of light and glass such as the Reliance Building that you can see today. There is an element of lightness to his work. At the same time, some of his buildings are a little bit heavier depending on a certain point in his career. The Rookery Building is a little bit of a heavier building, where you have the feeling of masonry - of something that is very heavy and concentrated, but the proportions lighten as you go up," said Grannan.

"People pass by his buildings every day and don't necessarily know it, but they appreciate it and are affected by it," added Grannan.

The pavilions celebrating the Burnham Plan Centennial will be in Millennium Park until October 31.

The original collection of Burnham's 1909 plan for the city of Chicago is currently on display at Chicago's Art Institute, and information on Burnham's plan for Chicago and the Columbian Exposition is at the Chicago History Museum.

For more information on Burnham Centennial celebrations visit

Millennium Park
201 E. Randolph St.

Art Institute of Chicago
111 S. Michigan Ave.

Chicago History Museum
1601 N. Clark St.

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