Sunday, February 28, 2010

DANIEL BURNHAM. Railway Exchange. Triptych of Progress

Daniel Burnham's 1904 Railway Exchange Building is a tour de force in terra cotta.
But it is not an "easy read."

First, we see the Native American Angels (with pigtails) at the cornice. (See previous Posting Below). Then the round (Sullivanesque?) windows. Next, the decidedly un-Beaux Arts approach to the Building Exterior, while the Interior Light Court is surrounded with classic columns and a Beaux Arts balustrade.

Is the Classic Interior 20th Century while the Building Facade is 19th Century Chicago School, albeit reinterpreted in white? Is it Anderson vs Dinkelberg? Dinkelberg (eleven years Anderson's senior) was fresh from designing the Heyworth (one of my favorite buildings in the Loop). Anderson was fresh from Washington and Manila and moving from success to political success. This is one of those questions that begs research. Hours in the Ryerson and Burnham Library at the AIC stirring up dust. The transition from Chicago School to Beaux Arts was neither immediate nor immediately complete. It happened in the drafting rooms of Chicago's most important Architectural Firms. Personal conflicts. One building at a time. Victory or Loss. Depending on your point of view. In 1904, I'd say, stalemate.

The Railway Exchange's vestibules are flanked with allegorical tryptichs. "Civilization" stands between two smaller but gracefully delicate (Arts and Crafts?) draped figures of unknown representation.    
Progress" (carrying a very large mandolin?) is attended by "Science" whose foot touches a globe. She carries an unknown object. But her scarf is carried by the wind. Much like Mr. Ward's "Progress" just up the street. (See CHICAGO SCULPTURE in the Loop.)

Two nudes sit (on a wheel?) beneath the symbol of the RAILWAY EXCHANGE.

It strikes me that what distances us from the Railway Exchange - and confuses us - is not so much  a conflict of architectural style, as a turn of the century mindset that would allow Goddesses and Indian Princesses to tell  the  story of "Progress." And that Progress should include references to a Fair already ten years past, and steam locomotives powering slowly through the unsettled Territories of Arizona and New Mexico.


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