Tuesday, April 20, 2010

ON VACATION. Batchawana Bay. Thru May 1.

DANIEL BURNHAM . The Railway Exchange . An Arch and a Stair

Enter the Railway Exchange through a powerful arch that defines the entrance.  Cross the Piazza to a Grand Staircase that leads to a mezzanine surrounding the skylit central space. 
Enter the Rookery through a powerful arch that defines the entrance. Cross the Piazza to a Grand Staircase...

Daniel Burnham's plans "worked."  Axial relationships formed an aesthetic that maximized the value of interior public space.  Whether Richardsonian Romanesque or Late Chicago School, the logic is undeniable.  And who, btw, could choose which is "better,"  Dinkelberg's "Frosting" for the Railway Exchange, or Root's for the Rookery?  A toss-up, I would say. 

Although I do have to admit that I regret the decision made that the Rookery somehow needed to be  gussied up with Frank Lloyd Wright's marble applique -- but, then, who can explain taste? 



Friday, April 16, 2010

DANIEL BURNHAM. The Railway Exchange. Steel Frame Aesthetic

The proportions of the Railway Exchange's Piazza/Lightwell/Doughnut (see previous post) are determined by the engineered length of each steel span. And because steel is capable of spanning much longer distances than stone (the Classic building material) the emphasis of this new (new to the turn-of-the-century) steel frame architecture tends to be horizontal rather than vertical.  This was a dramatic visual shift.  The first impression to the early twentieth century eye, would be that this thing couldn't possibly stand up.  

Steel columns were covered in terra cotta, simulating columns of  a more familiar thickness.  Beams were also fleshed out to similar, more comfortable proportions -- creating a hybrid vision of "new" and "old."


The White Star Line's Ocean Liner "Celtic" (a contemporary of the Railway Exchange) had sails and twin screws powered with steam turbines.  The turbines propelled the vessel.  But the sails were there "just in case."  One foot  in the past.  One  in the future.  Electric lamps, elevators, ocean liners, automobiles, and steel frame construction --  all "unbelieveable" advances in technology.  Just thirty-five years after the "Fire".  Just 35 years from a  Loop that still had white clapboard houses, picket fences and lawns.

Credit due the Gjenvick Gjonvik Archives --  a great site for Ocean Liner  "buffs."  The Celtic was Westbound on the Atlantic on the night of April 15 1912.  Take a look at the Chicago History Journal for other events of that evening.





Sunday, April 11, 2010

DANIEL BURNHAM. The Railway Exchange. Watch the Doughnut.....

The interior "Piazza" is a characteristic hallmark of most of Daniel Burnham's "Big Buildings." While the lightcourts are certainly one of the most striking aesthetic features of those turn-of-the-century skyscrapers, they exist out of practicality. The "doughnut hole" provides for light, and ventilation of the upper office floors and circulation space on the first floor worthy of those heights above.

Below is the beautifully renovated skylit piazza/lightwell of the Railway Exchange.  Chicago School Ornament given order by the Steel Frame Construction.

But they come in all flavors.

Root's Richardsonian Crystal Palaces. Atwood's Palazzos. Dinkelberg's Chicago School (with a touch of Ruskin) Anderson's 4th Century Rome. George Beersman's Temple of Mausolus (really!). Same subject and verb. Interpreted in time's languages.

But all, Daniel Burnham.


Time's Language.  Today it includes Air Conditioning, and Controlled Lighting.  No need for that Lightwell.  It also includes the language of SECURITY, which precludes interior public space.  One by one, Burnham's spaces are destroyed  -- even as we go green with daylighting and windows that open.  Unfortunately, though, we cannot find the confidence that allows the sense of public community that once was  found so easily, logically throughout the Loop.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

DANIEL BURNHAM. Railway Exchange. Reasoned Ornament.

A small square resolves the geometries and identifies the center of each tier of bay windows at the Railway Exchange.  Of course it makes sense. But, (scroll down) what's up with the circles??

They are reserved for the centerline of the building. EW and NS. 

Take nothing for granted in turn-of-the century Chicago.  Assume nothing random. Each geometry speaks.


Friday, April 2, 2010


Nat Owings and Louis Skidmore worked for Daniel Burnham Jr. and Hubert Burnham from 1929 to 1933. They became partners in 1936 and were joined by John Merrill in 1939 forming Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.

In 1936 Charley (C.F.) Murphy and Sigurd Naess worked for Graham Anderson Probst and White,. In 1939 they became Murphy and Naess which ultimately became C. F. Murphy and Associates. Then Murphy/Jahn.

Two of the largest, most successful, and critically acclaimed architectural firms in Chicago share direct roots in Daniel Burnham's successor firms. Additionally consider the work of Edward Bennett at Bennett Parsons and Frost, Dwight Perkins, Peter Weber, Frederick Dinkelberg, and Karl Vitzhum. Each of these (and more) worked in Daniel Burnham's Office. The quality of Chicago Architecture is legendary. There is a reason.


If Daniel Burnham had failed after John Root's death. Or if his accomplishments were limited to the Rookery, the Montauk and the Monadnock -- I would give some credence to the opinion that Daniel Burnham was a great planner but not much of an architect. If the Columbian Exposition had not given prominent space to Sophia Hayden's truly elegant Women's Building, Louis Sullivan's arched Transportation Building, and Henry Ives Cobb's fantasy at the Fisheries, I would say that Daniel Burnham "sold out" to Beaux Arts But neither did Daniel Burnham fail, nor did he (and this term is subjective) sell out. (More below)

Daniel Burnham's second designer, Charles Atwood (albeit from New York) went on to work with D.H.Burnham and Company's very competent staff of Chicago Architects (after the Fair) to produce Chicago School masterpieces including the Reliance Building and the Fisher Building. After Atwood's death Chicago School work from Burnham's office continued: The Silversmith, the Heyworth, the Railway Exchange and the Butler Brothers' Warehouses. And let's not forget one more tradition that became evident during this period: the embrace of new technology.

Peirce Anderson, and Edward Bennett, Burnham's third and fourth designers, transitioned designs from regional Chicago School to the more Nationally and Internationally recognized Beaux Arts Style producing a list of Landmark Plans and Buildings. Bennett with Burnham was responsible for the 1909 Plan of Chicago. Anderson with Burnham was responsible for the Plan of Manila, the MacMillan Plan for Washington DC, Washington's Union Station, Field Museum and Marshall Field and Company.

Anderson continued with Burnham's successor firm (whose partners were hand picked by Burnham) Graham Anderson Probst and White (extending Burnham's direct reach of design influence for some 14 more years) producing important Chicago Landmarks including Union Station, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the Illinois Merchants Bank, the Continental and Commercial Bank. GAPW continued to produce the Straus Bank, the Wrigley Building, the Civic Opera Block. What better place for Charley Murphy and Sigurd Naess to meet and plan the future.

Ed Bennett continued his dedicated support of The Chicago Plan and is credited with the Michigan Avenue Bridge, Buckingham Fountain and Grant Park's Peristyle.

Daniel's sons Hubert and Daniel Jr. (first partners at Graham, Burnham and Company) carried traditions forward through their work at the Carbide and Carbon, the Bankers Building, the Engineering Building, the State of Illinois Building. Where we first meet Nat Owings and Louis Skidmore.


SOM produced the Lever House, Inland Steel, the Hartford Insurance, the Brunswick Building, the Hancock Center, Sears Tower, Burj Dubai. And I've never once heard that the real architect wasn't really John Merrill or Louis Skidmore, it was .......  (uh, well, maybe once)

Nor have I ever heard that C.F. wasn't really responsible for O'Hare Airport. It was.......


In the World of late 19th Century Chicago, the architect was John Root. (And just like Harriet says) Root was a real charmer. (Though maybe not THAT charming.) He was a son of a Civil War blockade runner with a penchant for the piano. And a fine hand. But when industrialization, size, style, scale, nationalization, corporate structure, upheavals in technology, communications and transportation changed the face of the City and the Country, the Architect was Daniel Burnham. Who with uncanny perception consistently selected the right people, led them in the right direction, and gave them the right responsibilities within the right organization. And did this  (with a remarkable stream of clients) for forty years. In a manner so clear and so stable and so quality driven,  that for another 20 years (depending who's counting) his direct hand was felt on Chicago's architecture. His solid influence is felt throughout the profession today. Daniel Burnham was a great man.

And, oh yes, a great Architect.

And when all the logic and all the research is done, the only real proof of this pudding necessary is a walk in the Loop. And then to the Lake. On an unseasonably warm April day.