Burnham Memorial Competition

Chicago, Illinois

With Sculptor Alexander Stoddart

This proposal is the joint effort of two invited competitors: architect James C. McCrery, II and sculptor Alexander Stoddart.

The shadowy, downward sloping, north-facing site challenges the memorial from the outset. The site gains its greatest significance from its immediate architectural surroundings and from its panoramic command of the Chicago skyline well to the north.

The site’s scale is daunting — the space is vast and the adjacent buildings are composed of giant order Ionic and Doric Architecture and embrace a sizable tract of landscape. The enormity of both size and scale of this site is challenging because memorializing — the calling to one’s memory — is accomplished in the mind of the individual visitor whose scale is merely human and whose height ranges from three to seven feet.

In memorializing Burnham in Chicago, and especially in this large setting, it is entirely appropriate to embrace his exhortation to THINK BIG. The key to this Memorial Design is that it accomplishes the difficult: successfully and convincingly situating the individual visitor in this vast site while transporting her or him to the scale of Chicago itself. It is wholly fitting and proper that Daniel Burnham be memorialized in this manner. This is no little plan.

This memorial makes demands on its visitors and rewards them amply. To counteract the site’s down-slope thrust, a forceful horizontal sequence has been struck northward from the terrace in the form of an extended hemicycle, bridge abutments, and “bridge”, all culminating in a monumental column. The experience of this Burnham Memorial is as a destination and a committed action for the visitor, not as a passerby curiosity. So arranged, and in its integration of architecture and sculpture in playful and powerful forms, this is a mighty rehearsal of the key elements of Burnham’s Beaux-Arts culture.

Burnham’s statue is located at the Aquarium and Field Museum axes and rises from the same level upon which these buildings stand and shows the architect in contemporary costume. As this is a testimonial to a national figure, his hand rests upon his McMillan Plan for Washington DC which in turn drapes a model of Manhattan’s Flatiron building. This subtly indicates Burnham’s influence throughout America’s great cities.

A semi-circular bench ranges around the statue precinct and bears inscribed names of Burnham’s built accomplishments. Two close-set abutments indicate the bridge entrance. Decorated with gigantic figures of the Arts (attended by Sculpture and Architecture) and the Sciences (attended by medicine and Communication), they call to mind Burnham’s reliance upon and command of both.

The bridge is the modern Chicago type: iron, elegant and graceful. It serves as a causeway to the Spirit of Chicago herself — sculpturally personified atop the column and shown in skyline form in the cityscape beyond.

The north side of the column base is home to the memorial donor’s names facing Chicago.

The pier terminates at its base along the pathway with water pouring into a basin. Here, in testimonial, the inscription “ROOT” appears, to confess the genius of Burnham’s short-lived partner John Wellborn Root, pioneer of the American skyscraper.