Chicago Model City

Miniature in size, grand in vision

Chicago Model City CAF
Chicago Model City exhibit photo couresy of Chicago Architecture Foundation

Chicago Model City

The Chicago Model City Exhibition is not just an architectural spectacle of Burnham?s 1909 Plan of Chicago; it?s a centennial celebration and high-tech statement of Chicago?s urban-planning values for the past, present and future.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation opened it?s eagerly anticipated Chicago Model City Exhibition in June 2009. The exhibit was originally scheduled to end that November, but it has endured as a popular destination for tourists, school groups and Chicagoans fascinated by the City’s rich architectural and urban planning history.

The Chicago Model City is more than just a model; it?s a historical blueprint, a vision and a mission that represents Chicago?s urban planning values and goals.

Daniel Burnham – The Centennial Focus:

A century ago, Daniel Burnham was the 1909 Plan of Chicago visionary who looked to the future to ensure that cities maintained the necessary resources to carry out sustained growth policies that would ensure a high quality of life for residents.

Burnham has paved the way to Chicago?s worldwide architectural influence.

“To this day, Burnham?s vision of great plans to stir our souls resonates in our ongoing goal of making Chicago a global city and model for other cities around the world,” said then Mayor Richard M. Daley, when the exhibit opened..

The Centennial Building Blocks:

The exhibition considers the philosophy of “thinking big” by examining historic and contemporary urban plans of all sizes. Chicago Model City includes photographs, maps, videos, digital visualizations, and a large-scale model of Chicago?s Loop.

The esthetic intelligence of the Chicago Model City allows visitors to engage in a life-like city. The 1in. to 50ft. scale model features 1000 detailed buildings in 400 city blocks.

The Sears Tower stands at nearly 3 ft. tall in the model scale.

The lighting for the model simulates June 21st, the longest day of the year, going from morning to night every fifteen minutes.

Architects, model makers and industrial designers were the craftsman behind the exhibition. Rather than creating each building by hand, the model was made using a cutting-edge rapid prototyping manufacturing process called stereolithography.

Stereolithography: is a common rapid manufacturing and rapid prototyping technology for producing parts with high accuracy and good surface finish.

The Five Visionary City Ideas:


  • Beautiful City: Chicagoans? efforts to build an efficient, pleasurable, and moral environment through beautification, exploring Burnham and Bennett?s 1909 Plan of Chicago and proposals to remake Chicago for the 2016 Olympic Games.
  • Global City: How transportation networks form the basis of Chicago?s economic wealth and innovative potential, including O?Hare Airport and freight railways.
  • Connected City: Chicagoans? ability to travel throughout the region encourages urban growth, drives real estate development, and contributes to quality of life.
  • Green City: The impact of urbanization on health, including Mayor Daley?s Chicago Climate Action Plan and Jane Addams? public heath initiatives.
  • New City: Whether or not demolition and rebuilding solves urban problems. An example is the IIT campus?which was “renewed” in the 1940s.

The Architectural Experience:

The Exhibition is an influential spectacle for all ages and designed to educate people on city development, planning efforts and issues such as density and the conservation of natural resources.

To keep the success of Burnham?s influences alive, the exhibition helps keep people involved in the process of developing and improving the city.

The Chicago Model City will be a permanent legacy for the city. CAF has plans to enhance and expand the model, which would become the focus of its new facility, planned for 2011.


For more information please go to the Chicago Architecture Foundation website or call 312.922.3432.