The Legacy of Daniel Burnham: Architect and City Planner - 7 August 2009

| Aug 07, 2009

Catherine Boland

The Architecture

August 7, 2009

The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, located in the Albert F. Madlener House (1901-2), provided the setting for our lectures each morning. The first day of the tour began with a welcome from the Executive Director of SAH, Pauline Saliga, and from the tour coordinator, Phil Gruen. After an introduction to the weekend’s events, we were treated to a lecture from Kristen Schaffer of North Carolina State University, one of the leading Burnham experts. Her talk focused on the relationship between Burnham’s architecture and his city planning. Kristen proposes there is continuity in his buildings and his city plans – the provision of public space. Burnham favored the hollowed square plan with an atrium in the center was exemplary of Burnham’s attitude of the public nature of private space. It was this attitude that extended into his plans for the city.

After lunch, we were joined by geographer and historian Dennis McClendon to take a walking tour of Chicago’s Loop, the city’s downtown center. The rainy weather did not stop Dennis and Kristen from providing an intriguing commentary as they took us on a tour of significant Burnham buildings that illustrate his philosophy of urban architecture.

Our first stop was the Rookery (Burnham and Root, 1885-89). For a building of such great height (eleven stories), the foundation needed to be solid enough to rest on Chicago’s marshy soil and was therefore made of interlinking concrete and iron. The more traditional façade features a Romanesque entry arch, rustication and terra cotta ornament.

The Rookery

Detail of the Rookery

La Salle Street Entrance

with Richardsonian Romanesque Arch

It was in the interior, however, that we were truly able to understand Kristen’s commentary on the public nature of private spaces. As we entered into the atrium, we were struck by the openness and airiness of the space. Despite the dreary day, the amount of light filling the space was incredible.

Atrium of the Rookery

The atrium was renovated by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1907. The original iron staircase, railings and supports were encased with gold-incised white marble. However, one iron support is exposed to allow visitors to imagine what once was. After seeing a photo of the original atrium and seeing the exposed support, I can’t help but feel that the atrium lacks the airiness that Burnham and Root intended.

Light fixture by Frank Lloyd Wright

Original iron support exposed

One of the most thrilling parts of the tour was the private viewing of the office of Burnham and Root on the eleventh floor of the Rookery. The original fireplace, where the well-known photograph of the two architects was taken, remains in situ.

Burnham and Root in

their Rookery Office
We were also able to enjoy a viewing of the banking hall of the Illinois Merchants Bank (Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, 1923-24) thanks to Ed Hirschland and the Bank of America. This banking hall is now closed to the public but would have once been a ceremonial space for those entering conducting banking business. The bank became known as “Chicago’s Temple of Commerce,” a fitting title for the neoclassical-inspired design. The Grand Banking Hall on the second floor displays a frieze of eight murals by Jules Guerin (1924), who was the principal renderer for Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago. The murals exhibit the foundations of various countries’ economies and in the background are the buildings of the White City of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. This was a poignant backdrop for a building by Burnham’s successors.

Running between raindrops, we headed over to the Monadnock Building (Burnham and Root, 1889-91) to marvel at the load-bearing masonry construction. The enormity of the six-foot-thick base of the building was best observed from the interior where you could see the thickness of the walls from the interior storefronts. Instead of an atrium, light would have filtered through the vertical shafts containing iron staircases.

Monadnock Building

The exterior of the building tapers inward

as it reaches the cornice and then bows slightly outward.

The unornamented façade features bay
windows that provide light on the interior.
We admired the facades of a number of other buildings, including the Fisher Building (D.H. Burnham and Co., 1895-96) and the Old Colony Building (Holabird and Roche, 1893-94), before heading over to the Reliance Building (Burnham and Root, 1890-91; D.H. Burnham and Co., 1894-95).

The Old Colony building undergoing

a much needed cleaning.
Reliance Building
Detail of façade of the Reliance Building
Instead of a structure focusing on walls and mass, the Reliance Building features volume and glass. The curtain wall and large plate-glass Chicago windows give the building an airiness not seen in the exterior of the previously seen Burnham designs, but rather an airiness often experienced in the atria of those buildings.

The desire to get out of the rain took us into the Marshall Field and Company Store (D.H. Burnham and Co.; Graham, Burnham and Co., 1892-1914). The store was converted into a Macy’s into 2005, much to the chagrin of Chicagoans. The stone façade gave no indication of the two striking atria on the interior. The south side atrium features a mosaic dome by Louis Comfort Tiffany and the north side atrium topped with a skylight.

South side atrium
North side atrium
Here, we were able to understand Burnham’s ideas of public space even more fully. Shopping at Marshall Field’s (or, dare I say Macy’s) becomes a ceremonial event and a place to see and be seen, just as banking became a ceremonial event in the Illinois Merchant Bank.

With the walking tour coming to a close, we briefly looked at the People’s Gas, Coke and Light Building (D.H. Burnham and Co., 1910-11) and the Railway Exchange Building (D.H. Burnham and Co., 1903-04) before heading to the Cliff Dweller’s Club at 200 S. Michigan Ave. for a private screening of clips from Judith Paine McBrien’s upcoming Burnham documentary, Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City. The film will be premiered in the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park on Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 7.30 PM.


Views from the Cliff Dweller’s Club

We ended our day with dinner at the Cliff Dweller’s Club, thanks to SAH member, John Notz. From the terrace, we took in striking panoramic views of the city. We were also able to enjoy the sounds of the city, thanks to the Lollapalooza Festival in Millennium Park. It was a wonderful end to a stimulating day. Starting the tour with Burnham’s buildings provided some insight into his work and his ideas that were a necessary preparation for the following day: looking at the plan itself.

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