Illustrated Architecture Dictionary  ........................ Styles of Architecture - Table of Contents

City Beautiful Movement

The Beaux Arts style was popularized during the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago . One outgrowth of the Expo was the reform movement advocated by Daniel Burnham: the City Beautiful Movement.

Buffalo's only building designed by Daniel Burnham was the 1896 Ellicott Square Building.

Burnham further influenced Buffalo's architecture during the 1901 Pan-American Exposition where he was a prominent consultant; hence, the similarities of the Pan-Am to the Columbian Exposition in terms of Beaux Arts style.

The City Beautiful movement emerged at a time in U.S. history when the country’s urban population first began to outnumber its rural population.

Most city dwellers perceived that cities were ugly, congested, dirty, and unsafe. As cities grew -an increasingly rapid condition enhanced by an influx of immigrants at the end of the 19th century- public space was being usurped. With increased congestion, city dwellers needed open outdoor areas for recreation as they never had before.

In addition, the chaotic approach to sanitation, pollution, and traffic found in most big American cities affected rich and poor alike, which is how the City Beautiful movement gained both financial and social support.

Washington, D.C., in 1902 became the first city to carry out a City Beautiful design... It limited building heights and positioned new structures and monuments throughout the city to create a balanced aerial composition.

Daniel Hudson Burnham was indisputably the “Father of the City Beautiful.” As director of works of the World's Columbian Exposition (1893), he effectively launched the movement that 15 years later would reach its apogee in his epochal Plan of Chicago (1909).

Burnham's importance as an architect and planner lay chiefly in his ability to direct and stimulate the design efforts of others.

His own credo captured the essence of his life and work: “Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men's blood. ... Make big plans ... remembering that 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 consistency.”
The central ideological conflict surrounding the City Beautiful pitted invention and innovation against continuity and tradition. The newness and cultural nationalism espoused by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright lay in their quest for a uniquely “American” culture, one with maturity and confidence enough to cease relying so heavily on Old World traditions.

Burnham and his allies, by contrast, believed that the sometimes frantic quest for “American-ness”- the obsession with New World originality and horror of all things European - was itself a kind of insecurity, and that maturity would consist in an acknowledgment that America was not culturally isolated from the rest of the world. Burnham and his associates saw the United States as a rightful heir to the traditions of Western culture and chose thus to recall, celebrate, and use those traditions themselves.

... the provenance and thrust of City Beautiful planning was classical and Baroque in its emphasis upon processions of buildings and open spaces arranged in groups.

For more than a decade following the fair, Chicago lagged behind other cities in the realm of urban planning. Yet during those years Burnham conceived and directed City Beautiful plans for Washington DC (1902), Cleveland (1903), Manila (1904), and San Francisco (1905) from inside his Chicago office. His work also inspired the efforts of other City Beautiful planners, most notably Charles Mulford Robinson and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.

Parks were central to the City Beautiful impulse and to Burnham's sense of civic harmony.

Generally stated, the City Beautiful advocates sought to improve their city through beautification, which would have a number of effects:

1) social ills would be swept away, as the beauty of the city would inspire civic loyalty and moral rectitude in the impoverished;

2) American cities would be brought to cultural parity with their European competitors through the use of the European Beaux-Arts idiom; and

3) a more inviting city center still would not bring the upper classes back to live, but certainly to work and spend money in the urban areas.

The idiom the City Beautiful leaders used in their ideal civic centers was the Beaux-Arts style, named for the famous Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, which instructed artists and architects in the necessity of order, dignity, and harmony in their work.

The first expression of this monumental style in the United States was found at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. The shimmering "White City," as the fair came to be known during that summer in Chicago, was a tour de force of early city planning and architectural cohesion. In the grand Court of Honor, architects, brought in from the East by Director of Construction Daniel H. Burnham of Chicago, put their Beaux-Arts training to use in the monumental and vaguely classical buildings, all of uniform cornice height, all decorated roughly the same, and all painted bright white.

Page by Chuck LaChiusa in 2016
| ...Home Page ...| ..Buffalo Architecture Index...| ..Buffalo History Index....|.. E-Mail ...| .

web site consulting by ingenious, inc.