“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.”Daniel Hudson Burnham.

Wise men come with wise philosophy! Such was the legacy of Daniel Burnham. After a consolidated struggling career, the then President of American Institute of Architects (1894-1895) not just pioneered the ‘City Beautiful Movement’; but also is considered by many the originator of skyscrapers along with his practicing partner John Wellborn Root. A prolific Urban Planner, Burnham’s major works still communicate with us through his City Plans of San Francisco, Washington D.C., as well as Manila in the Philippines and Chicago.

But the most breakthrough of his career would be the ‘World’s Columbian Expo’ 1893, where he termed ‘White City’.

Unfortunately when ‘D.H. Burnham & Co.’ were perhaps the most predominant Architectural firm in the world the legend left us while on an overseas trip.

“If death comes to us unannounced; why don’t we keep expecting it?”

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1. Flatiron Building, New York [1902].

One of the most iconic skyscrapers and characters of New York City. Flatiron Building stood high and strong with its 22-storied steel-framed skeleton, just like Burnham’s personality. The structure showcases Beaux-Arts showpiece; a varied form of Neoclassicism. The architectural style of this building is what turns out to be Burnham’s trademark later. The change in New York City’s building codes, 1892 resulted in the allowance for the use of steel framing. Thus, what we witness today is a triangular-shaped plan with steel framing along with interior done with wood frames and copper-cladded windows. Although this caused the users to experience a major heat problem and mediocre user experience. Flatiron

The building, with all its fame, didn’t seem to satisfy its core, the users!

Appears as if the exterior beautification doesn’t mean the correct instinctive feel.

Flatiron Building, New York [1902]. - Sheet1
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Flatiron building ©NYCgo.co
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Aerial photograph of the Flatiron Building in Midtown Manhattan.
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Flatiron building interior ©thestar.co
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Flatiron building ©plansofarchitecture.tumblr.co

2. Roorkey Building, Chicago [1888]

Roorkey Building is a historic building in the evolution of the city’s architecture. It provided the transition of new building techniques with exterior load-bearing walls and interior steel framing. Being amongst the first large scale structures, done along with Burnham’s first and life lasting partner John Root, started in the year 1873. Light Court is the most featured part of the Roorkey Building. The use of ornamentations and light at the focal point of the building brings daylight into the interior offices. There is a semi-circular staircase west of the light court; which surely would make you feel like going back to Buckingham Palace; if you ever did go in the first place though!

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3. Montauk Building, Chicago [1883]

Built-in 1882-1883 the building had to be demolished just after a decade of its construction; this was the first major commercial project handled by Burnham & Root. It was a 10-stories structure with steel construction, on a heavy foundation for the load to be held on to. With 150 offices, along with two passenger elevators and 300 occupant capacity. For a relatively less heightened structure in Burnham’s career, Montauk Building sure was huge at that time.

Even though the structure had to be demolished because of the swampy soil type of Chicago. The bright side we can hold on to is that at least Burnham & Root dared to try it and even made it happen.

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Montauk building ©encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org
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4. Chicago Union Station, Chicago [1925]

After the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871; A black day in Chicago’s history. The city was in a completely new phase of redevelopment. Futuristic by character Daniel Burnham never held back his ever-expanding thoughts. Chicago Union Station is the result of his 1909’s vision of having all intercity trains using the same station. The biggest architectural glory of the Station is the Central Great Hall; with a large barrel-vaulted skylight having 110ft. high atrium. The Union Station is a basic square-shaped neoclassical structure contrasting with the modern glass facade.

Unfortunately, D. Burnham never got to see it after its completion; because of Burnham’s sudden death in 1918.

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5. Jackson Park, Chicago [1891]

Yet another Project in Chicago; Looks like Chicago believed in Burnham’s architecture even more than he did in himself.

Host to the World’s Columbian Expo, or the World Chicago Fair 1893; Jackson Park was then proposed. Major work of this park was done by the then flourishing Landscape Architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Daniel Burnham worked as the Chief of Construction to this project. This park worked as the foundation for the process of ‘City Beautiful Movement’

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Jackson Park ©architecture.org

6. Union Station, Pittsburgh [1903]

Built 1898-1904; this union station has more of a raw materialistic appearance coming from its brown terracotta cladding and brickwork. Still regarded as one of the great pieces of Beaux-Arts architecture in America. Founded on the base values of French Neoclassicism, having integrated gothic and renaissance elements; along with mixed-use of modern materials like iron, glass, steel, etc. Union station Pennsylvania is thus far another demonstration of Burnham’s legacy.

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7. The White City [1893]

‘White City’ termed the origin of ‘City Beautiful Moment’, which developed Burnham’s intellect, working it out later as an influential urban planner.

It was proposed first in the World Columbian Expo 1893; which was maybe the first architectural collaboration work done together by different artists, architects, engineers, sculptures, and landscape architects.

Burnham & Root were responsible for the final design & construction of this World Chicago Fair or the World Columbian Expo.

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8. Majestic Building, Detroit [1896]

Another High-rise building of the late 1890s. Majestic Building was the city’s only second skyscraper, quoted as a fireproof skyscraper. The building stood strong to its claim, after a fire break in 1915 on the top floor. The building’s support structure did not withhold any kind of damage and the fire was restricted to the top floor itself without endangering the other floors.

Having studied architecture at the École desBeaux-Arts, Paris. The blend of modern materials like glass and the typical hint of neoclassicism can once againbe noticed.

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Majestic Building ©historicdetroit.org

9. Orchestra Hall, Symphony Centre, Chicago [1904]

Constructed and completed in 1904. The structure underwent major makeover by the end of the 20th century; with improved and enhanced acoustics of the concert hall, done by Trahan Architects. To define the significance of a structure lasting centennial years; any kind of description would not just be enough.

That’s a major landmark that Burnham’s work represents. They are more like a legacy today. A perfect tribute to someone who believed in making breakthroughs happen.

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10. John Wanamaker Department Store, Philadelphia [1910]

After the death of John Root in 1873; this department store building was a project by D. H. Burnham and Co.; changed from its preceding ‘Burnham & Root’.

With the Beaux-Arts influence, Burnham had; typically, the classic style of Greece and Rome, and the use of modern materials that were the result of the Industrial Revolution ending roughly in between 1820-1840s; Major part of the structure is cladded with terra cotta, giving it a plain yet elegant look. It was the City’s first fully sprinkled commercial structure with dozens of elevators.

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11. ‘Manila’ City Planning, Philippines[1904]

After gaining notable nominations from his ever-expanding project list, D. H. Burnham did get a commission to develop the capital city of the Philippines and delivered the new city plans for Manila.

Establishing his very own presence in the Philippines. After spending six on-site weeks, Burnham returned to the U. S. with maps and manuscripts for the proposed improvements in Manila which included, development of the waterfront and the expansion of parks and parkways, direct district to city communication via a proper street system, development of transportation canal and river banks for the Pasig River. Along with the other small necessary improvements.

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12. Joliet Public Library, Joliet [1903]

As a public library, it started with the help of 750 donated books on March 7, 1876.

But as always, it looks as if there is a paradox associated with Burnham’s every other piece of work. Yet another majorly limestone cladded structure. It was firebombed on April 19th, 1989, which destroyed the non-fiction section of children’s area; closing down the library for months exclusively for the kids, and opened after 9 days of buffer time for everyone else.

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13. Riverfront Apartments, Toledo [1913]

Built-in 1913, it’s astonishing to know that the building still holds the position of fifth-tallest building in Toledo. Originally known as the Second National Bank Building, it stood as Toledo’s tallest building for 17 years after its public opening. Converted to a residential apartment in 1999 and renamed as Riverfront Apartments.

No wonder, why D. H. Burnham and Co. are considered as the originators of skyscrapers. Ultimately they are still standing high and strong.

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Riverfront apartments, Toledo ©skyscrapercenter.co

14. Sydney Kent House, Chicago [1883]

Not many structures designed by the partnership of Burnham & Root are existing today; a true symbol of a professional friendship, Sydney Kent House is amongst the rare buildings which aren’t skyscrapers. Being a residential home; it carries again the typical Neo-Classical approach Burnham used in his structures. It is still one of the structures in Burnham’s ‘Chicago loop’; which till date shows the footprints of Burnham’s ever-expanding vision.

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15. Plan of Chicago, 1909.

A combined effort co-authored by D. Burnham & Edward Bennett; popularly known as the Burnham Plan.

It was this plan that reshaped Chicago’s central area; having proposed civic and cultural centers, improved streets, and railway terminals along with an efficient highway system. The sole motive of this visionary plan can be said to be more fitting for the elites of the society and its expansion, thus inviting criticism to have ignored the social issues.

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“Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die.” – Daniel Hudson Burnham.


Ar. Omkar has been expressing his love for words and strong liberal views throughout his upbringing; mostly via multi-lingual poetries. Fascinated by 'paradox', grooves it as his writing wit. Time and again impending 'revolutionary questions', If not about everything, at least about architecture!

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