Chicago celebrates Burnham’s legacy

By Evan Minsker

It’s been 100 years since Daniel Burnham laid out a plan for Chicago’s future. The plan included miles of parkland along the lakefront, Wacker Drive, Michigan Avenue, forest preserves and Navy Pier. Now, his legacy is apparent.

Perhaps all of those big plans for the future is what inspired The Burnham Plan Centennial group to create a yearlong effort to commemorate his urban planning. The group has been challenging organizations and individuals in the greater Chicagoland area to commemorate the man’s big ideas.

And because of the group’s efforts, Millennium Park will have two new pavilions for the summer.

“They are designed as sort of a billboard of the future and thinking about out-of-the-box architecture,” said Emily Harris, executive director of The Burnham Plan Centennial.

The pavilions will be in Millennium Park from June 19 to Oct. 31. One of the pavilions was designed by London’s Zaha Hadid, the only woman to win the Pritzker Prize for architecture. The other was designed by Amsterdam’s The UN Studio Pavilion.

As Harris said, a lot of emphasis of the centennial has been put on looking to the future. That’s part of what Natasha Egan did when she curated “The Edge of Intent” at the Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Only one piece in the show directly references Burnham’s plan. Instead, the show used Burnham and his plan as a springboard to focus on the ideals of the perfect city plan, the ramifications of changes in urban planning and who’s forgotten in the process.

“I had in mind to do an exhibition that was sort of related to infrastructure, but I didn’t know which way I was going with it,” Egan said. “So when [The Burnham Plan Centennial] said, ‘Well we have this whole thing going, the centennial, you could be a partner,’ I sort of started gearing my infrastructure show to a critique of urban planning so that it could fit into the Burnham show.”

The exhibit, which runs until July 5, includes work by David Maisel, Eric Smith, Joel Sternfeld, Christina Seely, Danielle Roney, Simon Menner, Andrew Harrison, Dionisio Gonzalez and Liset Castillo.

However, not every show relating to the Burham plan’s centennial deals with the future. Most of them, in fact, deal with Burnham’s history. Aside from the “Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago” exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave., which runs through Dec. 15, there’s also an exhibit profiling Burnham’s lesser-known work in Evanston, Ill. “Daniel Burnham’s Evanston” at the Evanston History Center, 225 Greenwood St., opened May 10 and tells a previously untold story about Burnham’s life.

“It’s interesting that nobody had told this story of Burnham in Evanston,” said Kris Hartzell, director of visitor services at the center. “We had to basically do primary research to pull everything together.”

The exhibit will explore Burnham’s social life and contributions in Evanston. In addition to showing the different buildings Burnham designed and built in Evanston, the exhibit will tell the story of Burnham’s accomplishments on a greater scale, including his plan of Chicago.

For a more hands-on experience, Hartzell said there will be a walking architectural tour of Burnham’s neighborhood, specifically highlighting structures built by Burnham and the homes where his family lived.

Harris said the interest in Burnham’s life became very apparent to her at the Humanities Festival, which occurred Nov. 2, 2008.

“We had 1,500 people gathered in the Harris Theatre for a panel discussion,” Harris said. “There was so much going on, but people love to talk about Chicago-to understand its past and think about the future. It’s one of the things we think sets Chicago apart.”

For more information on Burnham’s history and different events coinciding with the centennial, visit