The focus of the competition should have given one pause, as the competition stated that the memorial's objective was:
To build a lasting and notable memorial that will inspire and educate the public, and honor the memory and importance of Daniel Burnham and his Plan of Chicago
The competition did not think it prudent to focus on his contributions to classical architecture as a whole, the Chicago Exposition of 1893, and the numerous grand classical places he created, from the
The city of Chicago reflected on a blank wall.
DWA’s winning design central feature is a barren granite wall, ala Maya Lin’s
The highly polished wall reflects the skyscrapers of the
The architect’s own website describes that this wall “directs attention outwards towards the city – showcasing Burham’s vision by connecting us to its vibrant, unfolding reality.” The problem is the vista of downtown
Burnham's vision of "Paris on the Lake" is far from realized.
Burhnam’s plan, little of which has been executed, instead focused on creating grand public places like he created at the World’s Fair. Tree lined avenues lined with appropriately scaled and detailed buildings linked these places, from Lake Michigan to a civic center with a magnificent city hall fit for an imperial capital as Chicago saw itself (there is now a massive highway interchange at this very spot). The vision that Burnham saw was one of a
Further proof of this motive is in the architects description of the memorial. Woodhouse claims that the
“Memorial's design is rooted in classical precedent (the Athenian Acropolis itself has a diagonal approach up an incline past an off-center cubic volume to a central pedimented portico)”
Such foolishness abounds in modernism, claiming that a ridiculously stripped down, asymmetrical and random plan is classical simply because one can find such things in ancient places. It is a one of the great logical errors to take accidents (things that are not essential) to be essential principles. Certainly a certain asymmetry was to be found in classical architecture, is found where other circumstances warrant. The example given forgets the Old Parthenon, destroyed by the Persians in the first invasion, was on center, but Pericles respecting this sacred place, left this ground clear.
This is classical scheme?
But this is only a continuation of the narrative, that modernism is classical or at least grew as a natural consequence of the classical, claiming Burnham as your own is a good way to. Holding that modernism grew naturally out of classical architecture is a useful argument when confronting the common man who rejects such monstrosities, but is highly cynical considering that the basis of modernism is the rejection of classical tradition. It takes another kind of mendacity to simply ignore the facts for the furtherance of such a dogmatic view of architecture. It is a sad testament that a memorial to a classical architect, its winner and most of the entries serve to reinforce the commonly held theme of the inevitable advancement of modernism, co-opt classical architecture to the service of modernism.
A further insult is that there were a few good classical designs actually appropriate to the content of this memorial. It is a shame that the Richard Driehaus put up the money to sponsor this competition, given his support of the Driehaus prize for classical architecture, but it is an added shame that two classical schemes got the short shrift.
I leave you with images from those schemes, who were among the 20 finalists, either of which would have enhanced and beautified the city. The firm Hammond, Beeby, Rupert and Ainge, submitted the first scheme which evokes both Burham’s civic center in spirit both in design as well as in the rendering. The last submitted by James McCrery Architects who worked with noted sculptor Alexander Stoddart, this design would have graced
Hammond Beeby Rupert Ainge's design evoking the rendering of Burnham's civic center.
The memorial evokes the architectural language of the Beaux Arts.