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'No Small Plans'? Burnham Never Said It

That's just one of the interesting tidbits in this celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Plan of Chicago and Daniel Burnham in The New Yorker.

"In the mid-eighteen-nineties, Daniel Burnham, then the most prominent architect in Chicago, met with a young architect named Frank Lloyd Wright. Burnham had been impressed by Wright's talent but felt that he could use some seasoning. He offered to pay Wright's tuition at the École des Beaux-Arts, in Paris, to support his family, and to give him a job when he returned. Wright turned him down. It was one of the few times that Burnham, who was probably the most successful power broker the American architectural profession has ever produced, didn't get his way, and he told Wright that he was making a mistake: the Beaux-Arts style, of which Burnham was a leading exponent, was taking over the country, and Wright was deluded if he thought that his modern approach, with its open spaces and horizontal lines, would ever amount to much.

Burnham and Wright went their separate ways, but their paths kept crossing, because if you had anything to do with American architecture around the turn of the century you inevitably ran into Burnham."

Full Story: Toddlin' Town



Maybe Burnham Said It

from the article: Burnham is famous for the line “Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” There is little evidence that he really said this, but everything he did suggests that he believed it.

Remember the old saying that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

Here is what Wikipedia says about it:

Burnham was quoted as saying, "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will not themselves be realized." (Moore 1921)
Moore, Charles (1921). "XXV "Closing in 1911–1912"". Daniel H. Burnham, Architect, Planner of Cities, Volume 2. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 1921.

This is almost a contemporary quote, so it is evidence that Burnham said it, though maybe slightly shaky evidence, since it is ten years after the fact.

So, we have gone from the actual perhaps-slightly-shaky evidence that Moore said this, to the New Yorker article's claim that there is "little evidence" he said it, to Planetizen's claim that we can assert "he never said it."

Charles Siegel

Tim Halbur's picture
Blogger / Alum


You're right, Charles, the headline was an exaggeration to attract attention. I regret the embellishment.

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