Saturday, March 2, 2013

Burnham's World, more

Becket, March 2, 2013

Do you know who George B. Post was?  I didn't.

He was the architect of the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building at the Chicago Columbian Exposition.  Certainly not a household name, like Daniel Burnham, Richard Morris Hunt, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, or even Sophia Hayden, some of the other architects in the fair.  But Post's building was not just another building.  It was, by far, the largest building in the fair (actually, with a footprint of almost 1.5 million square feet, it still ranks as one of the largest buildings ever build.)

At least since Paxton's 1851 Crystal Palace, these gigantic structures were a staple of 19th century world exhibitions.  But unlike, let's say, the unapologetically industrial Galerie des Machines at the 1889 Paris Fair, the great hall in Chicago had to balance its engineering demands with the Neoclassical ambitions of Burnham and his colleagues.  In Post, Burnham found the perfect man for the job: a civil engineer educated at Richard Morris Hunt's Ten Street Studio (the architecture school Hunt established when he came back from Paris.)

Still, you had to deal with such a large structure on the plan.  You know, like finding a place for a rhinoceros in a dog show.

Here is where the site plan plays a particularly difficult hand brilliantly.  One of the short sides of the building faces the basin, matching the proportions of Charles McKim's Agriculture Building (yes, of course, it's the long side of McKim's building.)  Then, one of its long sides faces the shoreline: you do need that kind of dimensions when you're dealing with the scale of Lake Michigan!  Finally, the other two sides are conveniently broken up by smaller (still rather large) buildings in the foreground.

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