The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City

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The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City Carl Smith. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006.

It is almost a truism that almost everyone has heard of Burnham's (actually Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett's) 1909 Plan of Chicago, many have seen and would recognize the best known of the views and drawings by Jules Guerin, though they would never have known his name, and almost nobody outside of a small group of historians and planners have read the beautiful volume. The reason for its fame and-to some extent-the invisibility of the book itself, is the directness of its application and that we know so much about it from both the degree to which it was carried out and as well for what it is missing in the Chicago-built environment.

Smith points out how handsome and serious a tome the original book is, with its heft, dimensions, gold lettering, etc., and it certainly is all of that. But it is the group of people behind it, the powerful and important Commercial Club, that is as much responsible for its authority as the report itself. Few of those who are familiar with the views of the city plan, or the more famous parts of it have seen it in book form, or know the history behind the commission to create it.

The author takes great pains to briefly and engagingly trace the antecedents of the plan, from the ancient world through Baron Hausmann's plans for Paris in the nineteenth century, as well as to the Columbian Exposition more locally. Then, after bringing us up to date on the reality of Chicago soon after the turn of the century, he introduces us to such figures as Charles Moore, known to students of architecture, planning, and public art for other reasons, but not on the pages of Chicago history when we consider the plan. …