Chicago Plan, 1909
Daniel Burnham, art by Jules Guerin
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Beautification as exemplified by Burnham’s City Beautiful plan for Chicago (1909), revolving around a vast civic plaza crowned with a municipal palace.

A master plan was to re-invent Chicago as a “Paris on the prairie”, through a combination of boulevards, long lines of sight, and vast pedestrian spaces — a Hausmmannian transformation. Controlling growth and improving circulation were two of the stated aims of the plan.

We see the same will to order (visual, natural) underlying almost every architect’s engagement with urban planning up until the latter half of the 20th Century. As a paradigm in planning, Beautification implicitly acknowledges the city as an emergent (uncontrollable) phenomenon, and attempts to curb, tame and order through large-scale intervention; to rationalise it into a coherent, aesthetic entity.

Beautification exists in some form throughout the history of planning, but the City Beautiful movement in particular re-orients concerns with the monumental present in renaissance Grand Manner planning towards new concepts of liveability. These in turn contain a set of ideologies putting nature in a particular relation to the urban and functionalism in relation to modernity 1.

Conceptions of nature as random, wild and unordered are implicit in City Beautiful thinking. Only as the complexity sciences engage with natural forms in the second half of the Century, do these paradigms begin to change, as our understanding of order — visual or otherwise — is altered by fractal theory, complexity science, a slew of research into Morphogenesis, the Genome Project and other insights into self-organisation in living systems.

See Also: Morphogenesis, Civic, Publics