The Chicago World’s Fair

There are many highlights from Chicago’s vast history, and one of the truly iconic moments is the World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair. Held in Chicago in 1893, the World’s Fair proved Chicago’s creative ingenuity and persistent work ethic. The Exposition was socially and culturally influential — so how did the Chicago’s World Fair come to be such a spectacular success?

In the 1890s, the world was changing, and world’s fairs had been successful in Europe as a way to bring people together with progress (London’s 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition — one of the first Modernist structures — was a prime example). Leaders across the country on a local and national scale agreed to finance a fair; they just needed the right location. Through a battle of finances, persuasion and voting, Chicago won with a large lead over New York. That left the city with an incredible amount of pressure to pull the whole thing off. 

Thankfully, Chicago had an incredible team of talented planners, architects and visionaries to get it done. Designed by famous figures such as John Wellborn Root, Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted and Charles B. Atwood, the Exposition was a paradise of neoclassical architecture, and the white color of the buildings inspired its nickname, the White City. Art, music, inventions, technology and culture from around the world were featured. The fairgrounds were joined together by lagoons and canals. In the end, more than 27 million people attended the World’s Columbian Exposition during its six-month lifespan, and it became a marker of American — and Chicagoan — history.

The fair’s legacy is still evident all over the city. Daniel Burnham took lessons learned at the fair for his 1909 Plan of Chicago, which in turn, influenced city planning around the world. The neoclassical architecture informed many designs that still stand today, such as Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute of Chicago. The Ferris wheel was even famously invented to debut at the Exposition. 

Perhaps most important, the Exposition deeply touched the millions of visitors who left with new ideas and inspiration. The Chicago World’s Fair paved the way for Chicago’s vision of the future, and countless others.

Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago

Much like the city’s history, our love for Chicago runs deep. We’re honored to build communities in a place that houses such a storied architectural history from being the site of the world’s first skyscraper to being the stomping grounds of so many pioneering figures in our field (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Louis Sullivan, to name just a few). But we would be remiss to pay homage to Chicago’s architectural roots without talking about Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago.

The 1909 Plan of Chicago (also known as The Burnham Plan) was co-authored by Daniel Burnham and Edward H. Bennett as a fresh, inventive response to beautify Chicago and improve the efficiency of its commerce. Daniel Burnham was chosen for the project as an already-known architect whose resume included managing the construction of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and creating city plans for Washington D.C., San Francisco and Cleveland. Equipped with these past experiences, Burnham dove into research to discover how large-scale international cities tackled swift growth and infrastructure to increase their economy and mobility. 

To address the economic, transportation and social needs of Chicagoans during a time of rapid expansion, the Plan of Chicago was broken into six categories: improvement of the lakefront, a regional highway system, improvement of railway terminals, new outer parks, systematic arrangement of streets and civic and cultural centers.

The 1909 Plan of Chicago, by Daniel Burnham and Edward H. Bennett. Plate CCCI Plan of Existing and Proposed Parks and Boulevards
The 1909 Plan of Chicago, by Daniel Burnham and Edward H. Bennett. Plate CCCI Plan of Existing and Proposed Parks and Boulevards

Despite the plan being slow to implement at first, the impact of Burnham’s vision for each category is throughout the city we know and love today. Chicago is now home to an impressive string of greenspaces along the lakefront and beyond (often referred to as “Chicago’s Emerald Necklace”), which includes iconic fixtures such as Millennium and Grant Park and Northerly Island. Chicago’s transit was indeed transformed, from highways to railways, and streets were introduced or expanded per Burnham’s recommendations: Ogden Avenue, Michigan Avenue, Roosevelt Road, Wacker Drive and Ida B. Wells Drive. We also have Burnham’s intent to introduce cultural centers to the heart of Chicago’s downtown to thank for the Art Institute and Field Museum.

In addition to shaping the city we know and love, the Plan of Chicago had a profound impact on city planning internationally from there on out. As a Modernist real estate design firm with deep ties to Chicago, we think of Daniel Burnham and his impact each time we traverse through this wonderful city, so influenced by his iconic vision.

The History of AIA

At Optima, our love for the practice and art of architecture runs deep. As a way to connect with and participate in the greater architecture community, our architects are active members of the American Institute of Architects, widely known as AIA. An extensive resource and network for the architectural profession, the organization has a lengthy history than spans over 160 years. 

In 1857, thirteen architects met in the New York office of Richard Upjohn, a British-American architect famous for his Gothic Revival churches. The architects convened to discuss how to elevate the standing of the profession. With his influential background, Upjohn was a natural leader and the first president of AIA, serving the organization until 1876. Prior to the establishment of AIA, anyone could claim to be an architect due to lack of schools and licensing laws within the United States. AIA set out to elevate the standing of architecture as a profession and work together towards advancement in the industry. By 1876, AIA launched their first official chapter in New York, closely followed by Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston. 

Although founded in New York, AIA moved their headquarters to Washington, DC by 1898. From Daniel Burnham to Frank Lloyd Wright to Mies van der Rohe, the vast number of members within AIA’s lifespan have changed the built landscape of America. Since its founding, AIA has created standards of excellence, advocacy, education and social change, and continues to do so today.

Now, AIA has over 260+ chapters across the globe, with over 94,000 members worldwide. AIA members adhere to a code of ethics and professional conduct to reassure clients, the public and colleagues of their dedication to the highest standards in professional practice. David Hovey Sr. has earned the title of Fellow, FAIA, AIA’s highest membership honor for those that have exhibited exceptional work and contributions to architecture and society. David Hovey Jr.’s work has also been recognized by AIA numerous times, including a National AIA Award, AIA Distinguished Building Award, AIA Honor Awards, AIA Innovation Award, and AIA Divine Detail Awards from AIA Chicago and AIA Phoenix. His prefabricated system has been described by AIA jurors as the future of American housing.

A prestigious membership organization with deep roots and wide-reaching influence, the American Institute of Architects continues to promote the architectural profession, ensuring its successful, longevity and inspiration — and it is something that we are honored to be a part of.

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