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The City as Image: The 1909 Plan of Chicago

November 10, 2015–March 27, 2016
Gallery 24

The 1909 Plan of Chicago played a major role in the global history of urban planning and remains one of the largest and most comprehensive proposals for the transformation of an American city. Authored by architects Daniel H. Burnham and Edward H. Bennett with a committee of advisors from the Commercial Club of Chicago, the plan addressed issues common to many urban centers of this era, including insufficient infrastructure, the need for accessible green space, troubled class relations, and the lack of a strong civic image and identity for the city of Chicago.

The visual language of the plan has played a large role in its enduring legacy, including, most notably, a series of monumental watercolors created by the American artist and illustrator Jules Guérin. From Guérin’s sweeping bird’s-eye views of the city center and lakefront to maps proposing a commanding new geometry for Chicago’s urban fabric, the plan’s images constitute a powerful pictorial narrative about the nature and goals of urban change. Ultimately, the Plan of Chicago communicated the authors’ belief in the power of order and beauty to transform the everyday lives of Chicago residents, and by extension, all American citizens.

Jules Guerin, delineator. Plan by Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett. Plate 132 from The Plan of Chicago, 1909: Chicago. View, Looking West, of the Proposed Civic Center Plaza and Buildings, Showing it as the Center of the System of Arteries of Circulation and of the Surrounding Country, 1908. On permanent loan to the Art Institute of Chicago from the City of Chicago.