The Burnham Plan Centennial - Bold Plans, Big Dreams

Calendar & Projects


Chicago Model City

Chicago Model City

Exhibit : Wednesday, June 10, 2009 to Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Extended through November 2010!   How does a city as vast and complex as Chicago take shape?  What are the goals of officials, real estate developers, corporations, and citizens who structure urban life?  Chicago Model City explores the planning of Chicago in order to encourage audiences to understand how cities impact individual lives, shape regions, and determine the health of the planet.  By investigating urban life-changing ideas, this exhibition and educational project will inspire people to imagine the future of Chicago and metropolitan areas everywhere. 

Through scale models, photographs, maps, videos, and digital visualizations, Chicago Model City will investigate planning ideals - and the challenges of their implementation.  It questions the philosophy of "thinking big" by examining historic and contemporary plans of all sizes for the city and region.

Beyond its reputation as a global metropolis featuring world-renowned architecture, Chicago enjoys special status: it is a model for understanding all cities.  Experts studied Chicago more intensively than any other American city.  Why?  Rapid growth, enormous size, diverse population, booming industry, and complex infrastructure made Chicago emblematic of modern life.  Daniel Burnham's Plan of Chicago (1909), Ernest Burgess and Robert Park's map of economic and social divisions (1925), and the beginnings of urban renewal (1940s) stand out as planning events that made Chicago a model city.  Alongside these classic examples, Chicago Model City analyzes today's efforts, including regional transit proposals and the Chicago Climate Action Plan.  The exhibition highlights issues such as density and use of natural resources within individual, neighborhood, urban, and regional contexts.

Chicago Model City encompasses five thematic sections;

  • Global City examines how transportation networks form the basis of Chicago's economic wealth and innovative potential.
  • Connected City investigates how Chicagoan's ability to circulate through their region encourages urban growth, drives real estate, and contributes to quality of life.
  • Green City focuses on the impact of urbanization on the health of citizens, the region, and the planet.   Do cities support or inhibit a green future?
  • Beautiful City feature's Chicagoans' efforts to build an efficient, pleasurable, and moral environment through beautification.
  • New City investigates the belief that demolition and rebuilding will solve urban ills.

The centerpiece of Chicago Model City will be a scale model of the downtown area.  By highlighting key planning events, the model will help audiences understand the motivations and outcomes of the decisions that shape downtown Chicago.  Created using rapid prototyping technology, the model will be the first of its kind in the U.S.


Free Gallery Talks will be offered Fridays and Saturdays at 12:30 pm July 10–November 20

CAF volunteers will lead 20-minute gallery talks that introduce visitors to the ideas and themes behind the new exhibition, Chicago Model City. Learn how a region as vast and complex as Chicago takes shape as a result of various planning efforts, both big and small.

Program Partner

Chicago Architecture Foundation

The Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing public interest and education in architecture and design. CAF presents a comprehensive program of tours, exhibitions, lectures, special events, and adult and youth education activities, all designed to ...[MORE]

This program was offered on these dates:
Exhibit : Wednesday, June 10, 2009 to Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chicago Architecture Foundation

Cost: Free. Free Gallery Talks will be offered Fridays and Saturdays at 12:30 pm July 10–November 20.

Contact: (312)922-3432


Chicago Architecture Foundation
224 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60604
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