Saturday, April 11, 2009

FIELD MUSEUM. Site. Symmetry. Scale. Size.

Early 20th Century Architecture in Chicago is remarkable for its contrasts. Louis Sullivan completed the People's Bank (1911) in Cedar Rapids.( Frank Lloyd Wright completed the Midway Gardens south of MIdway Plaisance on Cottage Grove Avenue in Chicago (1913).( And construction began on Peirce Anderson's design for the Field Museum (1911). All worked with artists on their commissions: Wright with Alphonso Iannelli, Sullivan with Louis J. Millett and Allen Philbrick, and Anderson with Henry Hering. However similar in team approach, all worked with decidedly different architectural vocabularies. The Field Museum was at the time, "modern" and followed the then broadly accepted Classical Style inspired by the World's Fair that "set architecture back by fifty years."

Interesting to speculate what might we have had if the commissions had been switched.

It is impossible not to compare the Field Museum with the Museum of Science and Industry (Columbian Exposition Palace of Fine Arts). Both are "Classic" and both by urban planning twists of fate are now entered through "the back door." Both were designed by architects who had worked for Daniel Burnham. Both have caryatids (right here on the Lake). But here the comparison stops. The Museum of Science and Industry is of almost Victorian complexity. The Field Museum is planned and sized for the Twentieth Century.

The Field Museum and the Chicago Board of Trade share (and gain importance from) their comparable axial relationships with in the City. The Board of Trade (a Holabird and Root project) is at the terminus of LaSalle Street and holds an (almost) centerline position flanked and enhanced by the symmetries of Anderson's Federal Reserve and the Continental Bank. (This will be the subject of a later post). The Field Museum is the visual terminus of Lake Shore Drive and gains strength from its (imperfect) geometric relationship to Holabird and Roche's Soldier Field. The Field Museum, however, maintains presence by its size and symmetry alone. The image below was taken from the Center of Lake Shore Drive at Balbo. Balancing on one foot. Imagining what might have happened if William Holabird and Ernest Graham had done just a little better with their co-ordination.

And having said all that, so to speak, at the end of the day, it is this remarkable view that makes me think about Chicago whenever I am someplace else.
CHICAGO PHOTOGRAPHS are available for purchase at

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