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Daniel Burnham's Plan of Chicago

September 6, 2008–January 18, 2010
Gallery 24

“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.” Architect Daniel Burnham’s words are certainly prophetic of his masterful and monumental 1909 Plan of Chicago. This urban-planning document, unprecedented in size and scope, created city treasures still cherished today—the string of stunning lakefront parks, suburban forest preserves, the wide boulevard of North Michigan Avenue, the bi-level Wacker Drive, and a broadened Congress Parkway. The plan’s legacies, however, are more than simply physical; Burnham promoted innovative concepts that remain goals for Chicago’s vibrant future, including weaving the city into the regional fabric and creating abundant public spaces to foster community.

Yet, Burnham was as savvy as he was visionary. Knowing his plans would need convincing images to garner support, he engaged noted artists to produce 142 new illustrations. Maps, diagrams, perspective drawings, and even striking watercolors gloriously realize Burnham’s ideas.

This exhibition, presented in conjunction with the citywide celebration of the Burnham Plan Centennial, presents 32 of these prized illustrations from the Department of Architecture and Design’s collection in five separate and insightful rotations. The exhibition offers an extraordinary opportunity to view these historically significant and artistically exceptional documents that, because of their fragility, are rarely displayed publicly.

Visit our online exhibition to see hundreds of images of the Plan of Chicago selected from the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries.


This exhibition is funded in part by Philip M. Burno.

Jules Guerin, delineator; Edward Herbert Bennett, architect. Plan of Chicago, Plate 132: 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 Surrounding Country, 1908. On permanent loan to the Art Institute of Chicago from the City of Chicago.