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Copyright: Unsere Weltausstellung 1893

The Court of Honour

Burnham & Root were entrusted with the selection of architects for the large exhibition palaces and representative buildings at the World's Columbian Exposition. Five leading firms from the East Coast were brought in to design the buildings around the Court of Honor, and five architectural firms from Chicago received orders for the remaining buildings. Burnham & Root, however, were the lead firm for the project overall and ensured that a uniform basic design was adhered to, especially at the Court of Honor. They specified the height, width, facade arrangement and, above all, color of the palaces. Originally there were plans to make every building unmistakable by means of elaborate, multi-colored painting.

After the sudden death of John Root in January 1891, Burnham appointed a New York architect named Charles Bowler Atwood as designer in chief. Following a suggestion by Charles McKim, a New York architect, the French neoclassical Beaux-Arts style with its monumental portals, stucco work and extravagant sculpture decorations was declared to be binding and the decision was also made to paint all facades of the exhibition palaces a uniform white. All the facades at the Court of Honor were structured by different hues but white dominated the overall impression to such an extent that the people soon started to refer to the White City. The use of coal fires was banned by decree to make sure that this impression was retained throughout the summer that the Fair lasted.

The facades were made of staff, a moderately durable but easily flammable mix of stucco, cement and jute fibers. The buildings behind the facades were quickly erected, undecorated and technically undemanding steel or wood frame constructions. This form of building had already proven itself at the World Fair at Paris in 1889, but it was not very progressive. Nothing was taken from Chicago's modern skyscraper architecture with its clear steel skeleton constructions in designing the buildings at the Fair. The electric lighting of the grounds, which had never been used to such an extent before, resulted in impressive effects at night.

The palaces were larger than at any preceding World's Fair. George B. Post's hall for manufactured products was particularly impressive with its gigantic size. Contemporaries calculated that 1,000 villas could have been erected for 5,000 people in this 500 metre long and 240 metre wide building "without being squeezed in". A large elevator built by the Otis company took visitors to the roof of the hall from where they could look over the entire grounds of the Fair. The structure of the large, over 112-metre centre span was definitely inspired by the Parisian machinery hall of 1889.

Charles Atwood designed the building for the art exhibition in Hellenistic classicism style. It had a solid structure and was the only building intended to outlast the Fair (it was used again at the World Fair in 1933), and the large portico of columns which separated the Court of Honour with its broad canals, fountains and monuments and the display sides of the large halls from the shimmering blue Lake Michigan. The large exhibition halls for manufacturing, electricity, mechanical engineering and agriculture as well as the Administration and Reception building at the end of the broad canal were decorated with facades in Corinthian style based on the French Renaissance or with Roman arches of triumph which all featured a sophisticated iconographic program with sculptures and inscriptions that had been developed in conjunction with university scholars. For instance, the Agricultural Building designed by New York-based McKim, Mead and White was equipped with statues of the goddesses Ceres and Diana, with figures bearing globes intended to represent human races, and with murals in Pompeii style by well-known artists in the USA such as George W. Maynard, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Philip Martiny.


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The Chicago World Exposition 1893
White City - the Fair's architecture
Year: 1893City: ChicagoCountry: USA
Duration: 1st May - 30th October 1893

 

 

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