2009 marks the centennial of Daniel Burnham’s 1909 “Plan for Chicago” which modeled future growth of the city after Paris and included abundant parks and public spaces.  Many ideas (wide boulevards, classical facades, and lush gardens) from the highly successful 1892 World’s Far can be seen in the Chicago Plan.

During this same time period, Daniel Burnham also designed buildings right here in Detroit!

In total , he designed 4 buildings in downtown Detroit, 3 of which are still standing.  They were all influenced by the Neo-Classical style that Burnham popularized in the 1892 World’s Fair.

All of them also clearly convey the column analogy applied to tall buildings which was becoming favorable in the 1890’s as away for architects to design tall buildings.  In fact, it allowed them to embellish (and often exaggerate) the street level (base) and top (capital) of the building while treating the tallest portion (shaft) rather mundane.

At the time, Burnham was considered the preeminent architect in America.  Louis Sullivan later criticized Burnham (after his death) for lack of original details and relying too heavily on classical details and even claimed that the neoclassical world’s fair has set architecture back fifty years.  The two had worked together on the 1892 World’s Fair and clearly had differences.

Burnham died in 1912, but he left his mark on Detroit.  The David Whitney Building was finished by his firm afterward, which continues to exist to this day.  Graham, Anderson, Probst & White went on to design some of Chicago’s biggest icons thru 1936.  Burnham’s personal papers, photographs, and other items were donated to the Art Institute of Chicago and are included in The Ryerson & Burnham Libraries.

Although it deals more with his career as a planner, the Chicago Architecture Foundation has a series of events celebrating the Burnham Plan Centennial.

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