World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago IL #00274
Type:Exhibitions & Fairs
The World’s Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago in 1893. The primary site for the Fair, selected by Frederick Law Olmsted, was the 600-acre swampy and desolate site known as Jackson Park. Already familiar with the site along Lake Michigan, in 1871 Olmsted, Vaux & Company had prepared park plans for the Chicago South Park Commission. They included designs for Jackson Park
The World’s Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago in 1893. The primary site for the Fair, selected by Frederick Law Olmsted, was the 600-acre swampy and desolate site known as Jackson Park. Already familiar with the site along Lake Michigan, in 1871 Olmsted, Vaux & Company had prepared park plans for the Chicago South Park Commission. They included designs for Jackson Park, the inland Washington Park, and the Midway, a connective linear park space. The Great Chicago fire interrupted development for these plans.
In August 1890, F. L. Olmsted & Company was appointed as consulting landscape architects to the Fair, alongside the architectural firm Burnham and Root. Despite many Chicagoans preferring Washington Park as a location for the fair due to its modest improvements, the team recommended Jackson Park as it offered “original soil to be molded at will…leaving Washington Park for the pleasure and overflow ground for which it is fitted.” Using the 1871 park plan as a guide, the team envisioned a central space defined by architecture. A surrounding basin would lead to Lake Michigan and a pier. Contrasting the naturalistic landscape, dense plantings were added to an island within a lagoon. The former became the Court of Honor, the latter, the sixteen-acre Wooded Island. Dredging provided the soil needed to develop the site and construct the formal terraces.
Olmsted deliberately juxtaposed the elegant formal spaces with the retreat of the Wooded Island. He described it as an island “free from conspicuous buildings and that it should have a generally secluded, natural, sylvan aspect…” Pressure from the commission for additional uses resulted in more formal serpentine walks, horticultural displays and a collection of picturesque Japanese buildings. Olmsted noted, “these introductions have much injured the island for the purpose which in our primary design it was intended to serve.” Despite this concession, Olmsted was successful with many of his goals for landscape architecture, planning, transportation and sanitation—including his strong argument for newly developed electric-powered boats in the interior basin and canals, over the noisy and dirty steam-powered boats originally planned.
During the six months it was open, the World’s Columbian Exposition was visited by nearly 28 million people—roughly forty percent of the entire US population. The financial and organizational success of the Fair demonstrated the values of good governance, public sanitation, technology and civic design to the nation. The resulting City Beautiful Movement influenced the design of America’s cities for the first decades of the twentieth century.
[Newton, Norman, Design on the Land, The Development of Landscape Architecture, Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University (1971)pp.353-371] [“A Report Upon the Landscape Architecture of the Columbian Exposition to the American Institute of Architects” American Architect and Building News, 41 (1893)] [Bolotin, Norman and Christine Laing, The World’s Columbian Exposition, Washington, DC: Preservation Press (1992)]