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)
Subjects: Architecture — Art.