Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Burnham’

“He paints with lakes and wooded slopes; with lawns and banks and forest-covered hills; with mountain sides and ocean views.”
Daniel Burnham, speaking of Frederick Law Olmsted.

Stone Bridge in a park setting

Cherokee Park in Louisville, Kentucky, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted

In 1893, Chicago architect Daniel Burnham was working hard to finish the design of the Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the Columbian Exposition. It spread over 600 acres with more than 200 buildings and attracted some 26 million visitors in its first six months. Working with Burnham was Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of modern landscape architecture.

By the time they collaborated on the World’s Fair, Olmsted had already designed New York’s Central Park and thousands of other projects around the country.

In the mid-19th century, industrialization sparked dramatic growth and cities became crowded and generally unpleasant places to live. In 1857, Harper’s Weekly called New York “a huge semi-barbarous metropolis…with filthy and unlighted streets, no practical or efficient security for either life or property.”

With this as the backdrop, it’s no wonder that Olmsted’s designs, focusing on “pastoral” and “picturesque” scenery, became so popular. Olmsted was all about giving people a natural, restorative landscape. It’s not as easy as it looks, and it’s why his work is still relevant today and why his principles of design are so revered.

Landscape architecture has evolved as the needs of the world have changed. Even so, landscape architects today would do well to paint scenes in the landscape with lakes and lawns and wooded slopes. And though our cities are not the semi-barbarous metropolises of the past, our need for restoration is greater than ever. Good landscape architecture can give us a place where our spirits find rest.

About a year ago in a post about Lake Lewisburg, I mentioned the book by Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City.

It’s the story of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, which became known as the “White City” due at least in part to the predominance of white buildings built for the fair.  It’s a fascinating story about how the Columbian Exposition, as it was also known, came together under the direction of Daniel Burnham, a Chicago architect, with assistance from Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape architect responsible for the design of New York’s Central Park.

It was a unique time in our nation’s history – and the world’s history, for that matter.  Electricity as a power source was just being developed and it was at the Chicago World’s fair that alternating current, as advocated by Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, won out over direct current, as advocated by Thomas Edison and General Electric.

The world’s first Ferris Wheel, with a total capacity of 2,160 passengers (yes, that number is correct), was one of the main attractions of the fair.  It was huge.

It was a time when the cities of the world tried to outdo the others in creating the biggest, most impressive World’s Fair.  It was in this spirit, that Daniel Burnham is credited as saying,

Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big.

[Trying to determine the origin of quotes can be a little sketchy.  There is some evidence that this quote originated with Niccolo Machiavelli.]

I’ve always liked the Burnham quote because too often we settle for less than reaching our full potential.  This is especially true in West Virginia, where years of finishing near the bottom of the lists of good things and near the top of the lists of bad things, have programmed us to believe that great ideas and big plans are meant for someone else.  Generally, I think it serves us well to think big.

On the other hand, my Cincinnati LinkedIn correspondent, urban planner Della Rucker, has convinced me that bigger is not always better.  In fact, if not properly planned and carefully executed, the big idea could end up being a big mistake.  Rucker advocates small, incremental improvements.

It’s possible that the little things we do with public spaces can have a big impact.

Knowing that good visibility into a public space is essential for creating a feeling of safety and security, maybe all that is needed is some judicious pruning of trees and shrubs.

Knowing that the concept of triangulation encourages social interaction, maybe a plan to incorporate works of art into the space will make it more convivial.

Knowing that food and drink can seed a park with activity and social interaction, maybe vendors can be encouraged to fill the need.

So, yes, think big, but understand that we don’t always have to wait for the million dollar grant to improve our public spaces.  Small actions can yield big results.

In that same spirit, next week we’re going to take a look at how to create a good public space on a shoestring budget.

Oh.  I almost forgot.  The “devil” refers to a serial killer on the loose in Chicago at the time of the World’s Fair.  Great book.





Lake Lewisburg

Posted: February 1, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

“Make no small plans.” 

That’s one of my favorite quotes from Daniel Burnham, the 19th century architect responsible for, among other things, directing the planning and design of the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1893.  It was an incredible time in United States history and the World’s Columbian Exposition, as the World’s Fair was called, epitomized the Burnham quote. (For a fascinating account of the Columbian Exposition project and a riveting side-story, check out Erik Larson’s book, The Devil in the White City.)  The entire quote (see below) explains that too often we don’t aim high enough and that we’re too quick to settle for mediocrity.

So when I saw the article in the Charleston (WV) Gazette about architect Tag Galyean’s idea to build an eight-acre lake right on the fringe of historic, downtown Lewisburg, West Virginia, my first reaction was “You’ve got to be kidding.”  Right now, that’s probably the reaction of many Lewisburg residents.  It’s a bold and dramatic idea that would change the face of Lewisburg. 

Tag Galyean concept sketch of Lake Lewisburg.

I would be surprised if the idea moves past the concept stage.  There are lots of issues – construction issues, cultural heritage issues, traffic issues, and of course, costs – to be considered.  In the end, the people of Lewisburg will decide whether or not they want a new lake next to their historic downtown.

But give Tag Galyean credit for thinking big.  That’s when the magic begins.

Make no small plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical plan once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our children are going to do things that will stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon, beauty.

 Think big.

 Daniel Burnham