Beyond Buildings


Biggish Plans

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Big plans are making a big comeback—but only in Fantasyland. The centenary of Burnham’s plan for Chicago, the audacity of hope the current administration in Washington promised and the fad for turning former industrial and military sites into parks, which started in Europe, and has now finally hit the shores of the United States, have all produced visions of a greener and more open metropolis. It is a shame that few of these schemes have as much chance of being implemented as Burnham’s vision.


The celebrations of the 1909 Burnham plan have included the construction of pavilions by Ben van Berkel and Zaha Hadid on the grounds of Millennium Park, itself an example of a belated realization of Burnham’s grand scheme, as well as new plans commissioned for the occasion by a group called The Burnham Plan Centennial.


While the schemes are almost all fun and appealing, ranging from a casino shaped like a slot machine to curving walkways threading through the loop, one particular proposal seems to get at the core of what could and should happen. Produced by, of all people, that old lion of Postmodernism, Stanley Tigerman, 2016 (and beyond) proposes that Chicago will, through a combination of natural tendencies and, one assumes, the kind of governmental dictate of which only Mayor Richard Daley has even a chance of being capable, turn from a cancerous tumor of what was a grid into a half-star pattern of linear cities. Instead of the warping of the famous Chicago grid into a sprawl that reaches into neighboring states, Tigerman envisions a sensuous version of the diagonal boulevards and train lines Burnham drew as converging on downtown. Now the focus is on the whole shore of the lake and, to a lesser degree, on natural features such as the Fox River.


Tigerman's Plan

Linear City Emerges

Urban Farming

Linear City

Tigerman McCurry's 2016 (and beyond), via The Burnam Plan Centennial.


None of the neo-Burnhamian schemes have been worked out in detail, to say the least, but this vision of the contraction of density around arteries, leaving the space in-between to go back to nature, has the strength of building on the historic development of sprawl and steering it towards a more attractive pattern. Instead of isolated compounds and abandoned former sites of development, Tigerman proposes a connective web, though the connections between what Lars Lerup once called the “vectors of escape” from the city do not exist. The connection to Burnham's own plan, but also to ones as disparate as L'Enfant's for Washington, D.C. and Cerda's and Le Corbusier's linear cities are also there—but now the lines are green.


The Tigerman McCurry plan has all the correct ecological implications and the grand vision we need. What we should look for beyond such visions, all too easily produced and then erased on the computer, is an answer to the fact that the traditional metropolis does not work and cities such as Detroit or New Orleans might be better going back to nature, while the sprawl model is highly inefficient and both socially and environmentally destructive. This scheme begins to offer at least a counter-model. Maybe it is not a complete and big plan, but at least it is a nice nudge. What we need next is the socioeconomic analysis to underpin this vision, along with the infrastructure that, as in the Burnham plan, can tie super- and substructure together in a dream of democratic space.




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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.