"Big. Bold. Visionary." asks what Chicago will look like in 100 years.
We have seen the future, and it has flying cars—at least, it does according to “Big. Bold. Visionary. Chicago Considers the Next Century.” Curated by Chicago architect and journalist Edward Keegan, the exhibition gathers more than 40 proposals for redesigning the city by local architects, including John Ronan, Carol Ross Barney and Stanley Tigerman. As Keegan sits with us in a Lincoln Park café, poring over a rendering of Paul Florian’s fantastical Eco-Scrapers—biomorphic towers that evoke leaves and butterfly wings, and contain their own wind turbines—the curator says with a laugh, “Daniel Burnham would wonder if these people were from Mars.”
Mr. “Make No Little Plans” is the guiding spirit of “Big. Bold. Visionary,” which is part of the Burnham Plan Centennial. Keegan tells us that, in January, when he began soliciting videos, models and renderings for the show, he kept Burnham and Edward H. Bennett’s Plan of Chicago in mind—in particular, the 1909 book’s illustrations by Jules Guerin, jaw-dropping images “of what the city could be.”
Opening Friday 4 at the Chicago Tourism Center, “Big. Bold. Visionary.” reveals that Burnham’s 21st-century counterparts inherited his concerns. Most of their proposals suggest ways to improve lakefront access, transportation or public spaces, always with an eye on Chicago’s bottom line. Their visions range from “shovel-ready” projects such as Teng’s 35th Street Pedestrian Bridge, which would give an underserved neighborhood easy access to Burnham Park and Lake Michigan, to reasonable improvements to Northerly Island, to concepts that may not be realized for decades, if ever. Almost every proposal is shaped by environmental considerations.
Here are four of our favorites: Jeanne Gang/Studio Gang, Eco-Casino Keegan says visitors “could even bet on the weather” at this West Loop gaming facility, where the slot machines are solar-powered and the roulette tables run on electricity produced by wind turbines. “This could become an economic driver,” Keegan explains, because Gang locates the casino near Union and Ogilvie Stations, at the site where Chicago’s high-speed railway station may (eventually) be built.
Gensler and 4240 Architecture, Hydrogenerator We were thinking small when we hoped the West Side’s Bloomingdale Line would become a linear park like the High Line, Manhattan’s new hipster haven. Gensler and 4240 Architecture imagine the abandoned elevated railway as a ten-acre urban farm. Solar panels produce energy to split water, fuel-cell style, into oxygen that revives the atmosphere and hydrogen that provides energy to nearby schools.
Ralph Johnson/Perkins + Will, Digital Burnham If we had followed more of the Burnham Plan, we would have a grand civic center where the nasty Circle Interchange now sits. Johnson remedies the damage with a “media plaza” that broadcasts messages to the public on its digital “skin” as well as a greenway that leads to a sunken airport in the lake.
Dirk Denison/Dirk Denison Architects, Grafted Crystalline Mesh Denison originally imagined Chicago circa 2106 for the History Channel’s City of the Future competition. His mesh—a material not yet invented—serves as our primary mode of transport, freeing the streets for use as parks and urban farms. The miraculous mesh also distributes renewable energy.
While recent design competitions furnished “Big. Bold. Visionary.” with several submissions, including UrbanLab’s winning City of the Future entry and David Woodhouse Architects’ forthcoming Burnham Memorial, Keegan sees Burnham’s example inspiring local architects to dream up schemes even without clear incentives: “Very few architects in Chicago don’t have something like this sitting in a drawer—or on a hard drive.”