Thursday, January 07, 2010

Daniel H. Burnham: Visionary Architect and Planner by Kristen Schaffer

2009 was the 100th anniversary of the Plan of Chicago, an influential document written by architect Daniel H. Burnham for the Commercial Club of Chicago. Groups around the region used the anniversary to launch projects and present programs throughout the year. I was aware all year and watched a documentary on Burnham on December 29. Inspired, I borrowed Daniel H. Burnham: Visionary Architect and Planner by Kristen Schaffer from the library on December 30. I quickly finished the big photo book on January 1 wanting to plan a tour of Pittsburgh, New York, and Washington, D.C. as well as revisit buildings in Chicago.

My desire is stoked by the gorgeous photos in Schaffer's book. The interiors of buildings, such as the Rookery in Chicago, the Society for Savings in Cleveland, and Union Station in Washington, are grand. I like all the marble and inlaid stonework, beautiful woods, and use of natural light. The exteriors are stately, orderly, somewhat reassuring. Beauty was a prime object in Burnham's work; he thought that it would well serve the commerce of his clients. Schaffer discusses in her text how Burnham has been often criticized for reflecting past architecture and not being more modern, but that's what I like about him even 100 years later. Many of the steel and glass buildings built since appear so cold and lack any master builder's touch. Any kid with Legos could do as well. Actually, colorful Lego structures look better.

Daniel H. Burnham: Visionary Architect and Planner is an architecture book and not much of a biography. A few facts about his life and stories about his professional challenges are included. Get Burnham of Chicago by Thomas S. Hines or Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen to learn about Burnham's life.

Schaffer, Kristen. Daniel H. Burnham: Visionary Architect and Planner. Rizzoli, 2003. ISBN 0847825337

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