Burnham, Daniel Hudson

views updated May 17 2018

Burnham, Daniel Hudson

Burnham and Root


Daniel Burnham was a chief architect of nineteenth-century America who helped rebuild Chicago after it burned down in the mid-nineteenth century. He was not a "modernist" but was a master of practical architecture and made early contributions to the development of the skyscraper. Even though his work was influenced by European ideas, his maxim "think big" and his innovations in the new field of urban and regional planning served the early needs of the U.S. industrial revolution.

Personal Life

Daniel Hudson Burnham was born on September 4, 1846, in Henderson, New York near New York City. He was the son of Edwin and Elizabeth (Weeks) Burnham. His mother was a homemaker, and his father was a middle-class businessman working as a wholesale merchant of medical supplies. In 1855, Burnham's family moved to Chicago, Illinois. Burnham's childhood seemed unremarkable and he was indifferent to the public school he attended in Chicago. But he excelled in one area: freehand drawing.

Burnham graduated from high school in 1866, after he had received some tutoring in Bridgewater, Massachusetts from a private tutor. As he grew into his teen years, his interest in architecture and his talent for drawing became increasingly evident to others.

When Burnham turned 22 years-old he applied to Harvard University and Yale, but he was not accepted by either of the colleges and he became confused about his future. He spent a year as a clerk in a retail store and then went to Nevada in 1868 for a year to prospect for gold. After returning from Nevada, he ran unsuccessfully for an Illinois state senate seat in 1870. He became dissatisfied with all these false starts in life, and his father, who believed in his talents as a draftsman of some kind, helped him to get an interview with one of Chicago's leading architects, William Le Baron Jenney. Burnham took a job as an apprentice in Jenney's architectural firm after interviewing with him.

At the age of 30, in 1876, Burnham married Margaret Sherman, the daughter of a wealthy stockyard executive. They had a long marriage and produced three sons and two daughters, all born within the first decade of their marriage. Two sons, Hubert, and Daniel Jr., eventually became architects themselves and joined their father's firm.

Burnham remained active in his career until his death at age 66. He died while on a research study in Heidelberg, Germany, on June 1, 1912 and is buried in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.

Career Details

Burnham found his career rather accidentally, after trying and failing at a variety of kinds of work as a young man. His introduction to the architecture profession, through his job in William Le Baron Jenney's office, turned him toward the career in which he would make his mark. Because of his enthusiasm for the profession and his good drafting skills, Burnham went on in 1872 to a position as draftsman at the firm of Carter, Drake, and Wight.

There, Burnham met John Wellborn Root, a fellow draftsman at the firm. Root and Burnham soon became friends and in 1873, when Burnham was only 27 years old, they created a partnership and established their own architectural firm. Root was creative and versatile while Burnham was practical and made sure the business stayed profitable. The men's preferences in design were complimentary as well. While Root preferred the older Romanesque styles, Burnham favored the later neoclassical styles of architecture.

It was a good partnership and appeared at almost the perfect time. In 1871 a huge fire had devastated the city of Chicago. There were many buildings and structures to be re-built and renewed, and between 1873 and 1891, the new firm designed 165 private residences and 75 buildings of various other types.

Burnham designed buildings in what was considered the old style, influenced more by European tradition than newer tastes. This style was often cramped and busy, with exterior decorations that echoed ancient Greek and Roman constructions. But Burnham was responsible for some important structural innovations. In 1881, in response to the challenge of space restrictions in the crowded downtown area, he began to build taller buildings. His Montauk Building built in Chicago, (10 stories high) is considered the first real skyscraper. The Montauk Building had fireproofed iron beams and was the first to utilize floating-raft foundations to make it more stable. Yet, it was not quite a modern building. It had masonry walls with cast-iron columns—already almost obsolete—and looked like a European building.

The Montauk Building was a great success for Burnham and he followed it up with the 11 story Rookery building in 1886. The Rookery's floor plan—a hollow rectangle—was copied in other commercial buildings in Chicago. The Rookery still used old-fashioned load-bearing masonry walls, but also employed lighter walls supported at ground level by cast-iron columns with wrought-iron spandrel beams.

Between 1889 and 1891, Burnham worked on the design for the Monadnock Building in Chicago. It was 16 stories high and became the tallest building in the world at the time to have exterior load bearing walls. In fact, in was only surpassed in total height by the Masonic Temple Building in Chicago, which had 22 stories.

In 1891, Root died unexpectedly and the business was left in Burnham's hands. By this time, their firm had designed over 200 buildings in Chicago as well as buildings in some 50 other cities. Burnham hoped to continue the company's successes and changed the name of the firm to Daniel H. Burnham.

In 1893, Burnham achieved a kind of triumph, the design and building of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The giant fair, which commemorated the 400th anniversary of Columbus's sailing to America, would include buildings and landscaping in an integrated design. Root had originally been named consulting architect for the project with Burnham serving as chief of construction, but after Root's death, Burnham continued to oversee the project. Working with other leading architects, including famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, Burnham oversaw some 20,000 workers and a construction budget of over $20 million.

The Exposition's design was deeply classical, influenced by the French architectural school that dominated the Western world, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Paris. The Beaux-Arts school incorporated the principles of ensemble, strong axes and axial planning. This kind of architecture, not American in style, relied on the forms of Roman and Greek classicism. Burnham called the Exposition his plaster dream city, but critics called it the "White City" because of his overuse of stucco throughout the project. Though critics complained that Burnham's creation was imperialistic and too academic, and failed to set a new, more "American" tone, the project made a profit and earned Burnham an international reputation.

In 1893, Burnham received honorary architectural degrees from both Harvard and Yale University, two schools that earlier had denied his entrance as a student. He was elected to be president of both the American Institute of Architects and the Armenian Institute of Architects. He was also given a membership in the exclusive Country Club of New York. In 1896, Burnham changed the name of his design firm yet again to simply D.H. Burnham and Company.

Burnham's success with the Columbian Exposition set the stage for what some consider his most important work, his involvement with the City Beautiful movement, which responded to the problems of expanding urbanization by employing principles of organization and design. Burnham worked on plans for several cities based generally on Napoleon's master design for the architecture of Paris. Burnham consulted on plans for new Civic Centers for San Francisco and Cleveland and created plans for Detroit and Washington, D.C. He continued work that he had begun in 1897 for Chicago's lakefront, and, at one point, consulted with William Howard Taft, then Secretary of War, regarding a plan to rebuild and modernize Manila and Baguio in the Philippines.

Burnham's 1901 Washington D.C. plan was perhaps his most extensive and lasting. In an attempt to reclaim Pierre Charles L'Enfant's 1791 plan for the city, Burnham reclaimed the Mall and introduced a plan for the construction of the buildings around the Capitol and the White House. He also introduced a series of interconnected parks reportedly inspired by Andre Le Notre's Baroque design for King Louis XIV's Versailles Palace in France. Burnham was also commissioned to design a new Union Station for the nation's capitol in 1903. When it was finished in 1907, it had a central focus on a triple arched entrance which led to a mammoth barrel-arched waiting room.

Working alongside Edward H. Bennett in 1909, Burnham produced his most famous plan. Called the Plan of Chicago, it was a response to the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and called for the large-scale and organized planning of the city. With orderly groupings of buildings, parks, and transportation arteries, Burnham hoped to save Chicago from, as he wrote later, "chaos incident to rapid growth." The plan addressed four different areas of urban life: dwelling, work, transportation, and recreation. The plan called for a city and county park system, the construction of wide boulevards radiating outwards from a civic center, a ring system of boulevards throughout the city, bi-level drives alongside the Chicago River, and the preservation of the land along lake Michigan.

In response to the plan, the Chicago Plan Committee was created to implement this design. The creation of Humboldt, Garfield and Columbus Parks as well as the Forest Preserve District are all a result of Burnham's vision.

Chronology: Daniel Hudson Burnham

1846: Born.

1872: Began his career as a draftsman.

1873: Cofounder of Burnham and Root.

1881: Designed The Montauk Building.

1886: Designed The Rookery.

1889: Designed Monadnock Building.

1893: Designed buildings for World's Columbian Exposition.

1901: Designed new layout for Washington D.C.

1909: Created Plan of Chicago.

1912: Died.

By the time of Burnham's death in 1912, he had designed or helped to design over 100 major projects throughout the world. But by this time, American architecture had turned in a new direction. The work of architects such as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright brought Modernism to prominence. Through the 1920s and 1930s, this style dominated American architecture and influenced design for the new century.

Social and Economic Impact

Though Burnham's work has been faulted as too European and too alien from America's forms, he developed many of the major structural designs incorporated in later buildings. His steel-skeleton building frame, which employed a few major load-bearing supports within masonry walls, made it possible for taller and taller buildings to be made and eventually paved the way for the super skyscrapers that have become a familiar part of the urban landscape.

Burnham is also given great credit as one of the first architects in America to call for sweeping and comprehensive city planning, which aimed to make cities more livable by placing commercial areas, housing, and parks in sensible relationships. "Make no little plans," he said, "for they have no magic to stir men's blood . . . Make big plans, aim high . . . "

Sources of Information


Hines, Thomas S. Burnham of Chicago: Architect and Planner. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.

Hitchcock, Henry R. Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. New York: Penguin Books, 1977.

Hoffman, Donald. The Architecture of John Root. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

Moore, Charles. Daniel H. Burnham, Architect, Planner of Cities. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1921.

Reps, John W. The Making of Urban America: A History of City Planning in the United States. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965.

Burnham, Daniel Hudson

views updated May 11 2018


Daniel H. Burnham (18461912), one of America's most important architects, helped to rebuild Chicago after the Chicago Fire of 1871. Burnham made important contributions to the development of the skyscraper. Long after his death, his visionary ideas about urban and regional planning remained influential as a way to accommodate work, home, and recreation in close proximity to each other. His 1909 plan to transform Chicago into a beautiful, functional city was the first comprehensive urban plan in the United States.

Daniel Burnham was born near New York City on September 4, 1846. His family moved to Chicago when he was nine. He graduated from a public high school in Chicago but failed to obtain admission to college. In his early adulthood, Burnham worked as retail clerk, mined for gold in Nevada, and ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Illinois State Senate. Still in his early twenties, Burnham was accepted as an apprentice by a leading Chicago architect, William Le Baron Jenney.

In 1872 Burnham, age twenty-six, moved to the firm of Carter, Drake, and Wight, where he worked as a draftsman. A year later he went into partnership with a fellow draftsman at the firm, John Wellborn Root. The partnership turned out to be a profitable one. Root was creative and versatile; Burnham, practical and businesslike, was a superb administrator. They prospered after the Great Chicago Fire, which decimated downtown Chicago. Between 1873 and 1891 the firm designed 165 private residences and 75 buildings of various types.

Most of these buildings were European in influence: their exterior decorations echoed ancient Greek and Roman monuments. In 1891 Burnham and Root adapted modern techniques to meet the demand for more centralized office space in Chicago. Three of their buildings have been designated landmarks. The Rookery (1886) and the Reliance Building (1890) both used a skeleton frame construction. The sixteen-story Monadnock building (1891) was the last and tallest American masonry skyscraper.

In 1893, two years after the death of his partner, Burnham became chief of construction and chief consulting architect for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Burnham teamed with architectural firms from all over the eastern United States to create an eclectic "White City"a community of buildings and landscapes that combined boulevards, gardens and classical facades. The Colombian Exposition was a triumph and it made Burnham famous. That year he received honorary architectural degrees from Harvard and Yale Universities, and he was elected president of the American Institute of Architects.

The "White City" became the nucleus of Burnham's 1909 plan to transform Chicago into a beautiful city. Critics have said that Burnham ignored the social side of urban planning in his zeal for a visually attractive and smoothly functioning city. He was also accused of failing to realize that boulevards lined with offices would be deserted at night. Despite these criticisms, much of his great plan was put into effect. Some $300 million worth of architectural projects were built before the Great Depression called it to a halt in the 1930s.

Burnham was also faulted for trying to make Chicago into another Paris, France. The neoclassical architecture, broad avenues, and public gardens he favored echoed those of the French capital. Famed Chicago architect Louis Sullivan (18561924) was said to have complained that Burnham's designs set American architecture back by 50 years. Notwithstanding these attacks, many of Burnham's ideas have stood the test of time and influenced city planners across the country.

One great legacy was Burnham's vision of making the Lake Michigan lakefront a recreational resource. His plan proposed the creation of a string of landfill islands and peninsulas, which would provide protection against natural erosion and storms and would also be an attractive site for pleasure boating, picnics, and other outdoor activities. Although only one island was built, the Lincoln Park shoreline was extended with five miles of landfill. Legacies of Burnham's plan also included Lakeshore Drive and Grant Park. A ring of forest preserves surrounding the city provided the greenbelt that Burnham anticipated in 1907, long before the waves of population growth in the twentieth century transformed the city.

In 1923 Burnham's recommendation for a complex of railroad stations west of the Loop (the historic center of the city) resulted in the construction of Union Station. In addition, Chicago's expressway system followed Burnham's plan for regional highways, though he could not have anticipated the effect of the automobile on American cities.

Burnham was asked to serve as a planning consultant by many other major American cities, including San Francisco, Detroit, and Cleveland. In 1905 he was consulted by then-Secretary of War William Howard Taft (18571930) for advice on a plan to rebuild and modernize Manila in the Philippines. In addition to his work as an urban planner, by the time of his death in 1912 Burnham was responsible for the design of several important buildings, including the Flatiron Building, New York (1901); Union Station, Washington, D.C. (1909); and Filene's Store, Boston (1912). Each of these buildings had a lasting influence on the twentieth century cityscape, and through them, Daniel Burnham's vision endures.

See also: Chicago Fire of 1871, Reinforced Concrete


Hines, Thomas S. Burnham of Chicago: Architect and Planner. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.

Hitchcock, Henry R. Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 4th ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1977.

Hoffman, Donald. The Architecture of John Root. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

Moore, Charles. Daniel H. Burnham, Architect, Planner of Cities. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1921.

Reps, John W. The Making of Urban America: A History of City Planning in the United States. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965.

Burnham, Daniel Hudson

views updated May 29 2018

Burnham, Daniel Hudson (1846–1912). American architect. A first-class administrator and entrepreneur, he was also gifted in that he could bring out the best in those with whom he collaborated. Born in Henderson, NY, he entered the office of Loring & Jenney (1867–8) where he acquired some architectural experience, and in 1873 formed a partnership with John Wellborn Root. As Burnham & Root, the firm was significant in the creation of the Chicago School: their first skyscraper was the (demolished) Montauk Building, Chicago, IL(1881–2), and other tall buildings followed in which load-bearing walls were mixed with framed structures. Then came the sixteen-storey Monadnock Building, Chicago (1889–91), with load-bearing walls, tiers of canted bay-windows, and huge crowning coved cornice, and then the (demolished) Masonic Temple, Chicago (1890–2), with twenty-two storeys and a steel skeleton. After Root's early death Burnham set up with Atwood in 1891, and built up one of the largest practices in the USA. With Atwood the firm produced the Reliance Building, Chicago (1891–4), which further developed architecture using a metal skeleton: a fourteen-storey tower with glass and terracotta cladding, it looked forward to C20 developments in which structural frames would be clearly expressed. Burnham was appointed the co-ordinator of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago (1890–3), and began to promote a Beaux-Arts Classicism as the favoured style for the buildings, which had a profound effect on American architecture and planning for many years to come. In Burnham's firm's own work (e.g. the Fuller (‘Flat-Iron’) Building, NYC (1902–3), and Wanamaker's Store, Philadelphia, PA (1909)), elements of Renaissance architecture were grafted on. Burnham's fame, connected with his impressive Beaux-Arts Classicism, caused him to be employed as consultant to Self-ridges Store for the new building (1907) in Oxford Street, London (by Atkinson and Swales): it was as innovative and as grand as Burnet's contemporary extension to the British Museum. The Beaux-Arts principles of powerful axes, symmetry, and confident use of Classical motifs were adopted by Burnham for his proposals for the City Beautiful in which he attempted to bring uniformity and an academic approach to urban America: his plan for Washington, DC, attempted to restore the eroded parts of L' Enfant's design. The firm's Union Station, Washington, DC (1903–7), was its first fully developed Beaux-Arts design, with a façade of five huge bays and a triple-arched entrance leading to a barrel-vaulted space worthy of Roman thermae. Burnham's plan for Chicago (1906–9), informed by his success with the Exposition, was influential at the time. His publications include The World's Columbian Exposition: The Final Report of the Director of Works (1898), and (with Edward H. Bennett) (1874–1994)) Plan of Chicago (1909). When he died Burnham's name was widely respected, and his plans for Chicago and Washington, DC, determined the development of both until the 1950s. However, as International Modernism gained the upper hand after the 1939–45 war, his reputation fell, but in C21 his work seems greatly preferable to the urban deserts created by those who decried his work.


Condit (1952, 1961, 1964, 1968, 1973);
Hines (1974);
D. Hoffmann (1973);
C. Moore (1968);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
Roessel (1996);
Jane Turner (1996);
Zukowsky (ed.) (1987, 1993)

Daniel Hudson Burnham

views updated May 23 2018

Daniel Hudson Burnham

Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912) was an American architect and city planner whose maxim, "think big," dominated his successful career. The firm of Burnham & Root was important in developing the skyscraper.

Daniel H. Burnham was born in Henderson, N.Y. In 1868 he worked for the architect William Le Baron Jenney in Chicago and then for Carter, Drake & Wight, where he met John Welborn Root. In 1873 the firm of Burnham & Root was established, and Burnham's career until 1891, the year of Root's death, was inseparable from that of his talented, innovative partner.

The firm, which employed as many as 60 draftsmen, moved into the just-completed Montauk Block (1882-1883) in Chicago, which they had designed. Although load-bearing masonry walls were outdated by 1889, Burnham & Root designed the 16-story Monadnock Building in Chicago (completed in 1891) of brick construction. The walls enclosed a portal-braced iron frame consisting of girders riveted to the columns for wind bracing and structural stability; this was the first example of portal bracing. Burnham & Root's further development of this structural innovation was the completely steel structure of the Rand McNally Building (1889-1890) in Chicago. Their four-story Reliance Building (1890; increased to 13 stories in 1895), also in Chicago, with terracotta facing material, gave expression to the steel-and-glass skyscrapers of the 1890s.

Burnham and Root were to have been the coordinators of the World's Columbian Exposition to be held in 1893 in Chicago, but on the day of the first planning conference Root contracted pneumonia, and died. Charles Follen McKim of the noted architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White filled the void left by Root and influenced Burnham in his "think big" attitude. Numerous architectural firms from Chicago, New York, Boston, and Kansas City designed specific buildings, and Frederick Law Olmsted was the landscape architect. The classical style provided the unifying element in the architecture of the exposition.

In 1891 Burnham established the firm of D. H. Burnham, which was replaced in 1896 by D. H. Burnham & Co. In 1894 he became president of the American Institute of Architects.

After the Chicago exposition of 1893 Burnham devoted his efforts to the "City Beautiful" movement of civic planning. "Make no little plans," he said, "for they have no magic to stir men's blood … Make big plans, aim high…. " His city planning aimed at creating beauty in a geometry of streets, with large parks and recreational areas and boulevards leading from a civic center to other nodal points of the city. In 1903 Burnham replanned Manila in the Philippines in this manner, ridding the city of its chaos and yet retaining its picturesque image. Baguio, 160 miles away, was planned as a summer retreat in the hills, with a dominant geometry adapted to the contours. Three days before the great earthquake of April 15, 1906, Burnham submitted his plan for San Francisco. Never implemented, it attempted to circumnavigate the hills and tie the whole street pattern together by an outer ring road. Chicago was replanned, and Burnham's ideas for a coordinated system of surface and subsurface freight distribution, linked to the waterfront activities, were partially realized. Washington, D.C., was "beatified" and railroads were removed from the Mall; Burnham built Union Station there.

Burnham's firm designed over 100 major projects: civic centers, office blocks, department stores, libraries, and numerous stations for the Penn Central Railroad. The station in Pittsburgh has been described as "Burnham baroque," and one critic sees the beginnings of Art Nouveau in its flowing lines.

Further Reading

One biography of Burnham is Charles Moore, Daniel H. Burnham, Architect, Planner of Cities (2 vols., 1921). Structural innovations by Burnham and Root are discussed in Carl W. Condit's publications, including American Building Art: The Nineteenth Century (1960) and The Chicago School of Architecture (1964).

Additional Sources

Hines, Thomas S., Burnham of Chicago, architect and planner, New York: Oxford University Press, 1974. □

Burnham, Daniel Hudson

views updated Jun 08 2018

Burnham, Daniel Hudson (1846–1912) US architect and city planner. With his partner John W. Root, Burnett pioneered the development of early steel-frame and modern commercial architecture. Designs include the Reliance Building (1890) and the Masonic Temple Building (1891), both in Chicago.

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