The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City Part 2, Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On February 24, 1891, the Board of Architects, including Burnham, Olmsted, and Hunt meet with the Grounds and Building Committee to present plans for buildings. Hunt, in pain from gout, orders the meeting to begin. The architects share their plans, and seem to admire each other’s work. Hunt’s Administration Building is a dome taller than that of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.; other structures use massive amounts of steel and electricity. George B. Post’s building is even larger than Hunt’s, and the architects fear that it will be too “proud” for the Fair, and will distract from Hunt’s design.
The buildings planned for the WF are impressive, but impressiveness isn’t the only factor the architects have to consider. The buildings must “agree” with each other — no one of them can upstage the others. In this way, the delicate balance between the buildings works in the same way as the delicate balance between the creative, ambitious architects. Each one of them pursues individual greatness, while also having to consider the overall success of the Fair.
Themes
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Sullivan, who designs the Transportation Building, takes advice from Burnham and designs a single large entrance, but refuses to acknowledge where the idea came from, even after the entrance becomes hugely popular. In general, the effect of the meeting is to prove to the architects, and to Lyman Gage, the president of the World’s Fair, that Chicago is serious about its plans to rival Paris. Gage, hugely impressed, tells the Board that they are all dreaming, and hopes that the dreams can be realized. Augustus St. Gaudens, a famous sculptor, tells the group that their meeting is the greatest meeting of artists since the 15th century.
For all his insight into form following from function, Larson makes it clear that Sullivan is second to Burnham in terms of creative ability — he gets his best ideas from Burnham. Gaudens’s statement indicates the pros and cons of the Board of Architects — they’re an immensely talented group, yes, but they’re also immensely competitive rivals.
Themes
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Olmsted is concerned that the designs for the Fair are too stern and intimidating for what is supposed to be an entertaining occasion. He tells Burnham that he wants the landscape for the Fair to “soften” the atmosphere created by the buildings, and expresses the need for beautiful, exotic boats in the water. He realizes that he will have less time than he thought to install his landscaping, since he can only begin after all the buildings have been finished. Nevertheless, he submits an ambitious plan a few weeks later, in which he describes his ideas for arranging flowers and creating a “poetic effect.” Olmsted thinks that he will only be able to complete his project if nothing goes wrong: if he keeps his health, if unions do not strike, if the weather is mild, and if the other buildings are completed on time.
Olmsted seems to be the only one of the architects who thinks in terms of the Fair itself, not individual buildings (and architects). Perhaps this is because he designs landscapes, not buildings, and therefore his works don’t draw attention to themselves in the way a building does. Yet Olmsted is ambitious, too — his floral designs won’t just be flowers; they’ll influence the way the Fair-goers experience the entire Fair. While this is arguably the most ambitious project any of the architects propose, it’s also one of the hardest to realize, since Olmsted has to wait for the other architects to finish before he can begin.
Themes
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Civic Pride and American Patriotism Theme Icon
In the early days of construction for the Fair, unions strike and refuse to work. A young Clarence Darrow moderates negotiations between unions and the World’s Columbian Exposition Company; the World’s Columbian Exposition Company agrees to eight-hour workdays, and says it will consider the rest of the unions’ demands.
Although Chicago at first seemed to be united in its desire to host the WF, Chicago isn’t a single, monolithic group: workers will only work on the Fair if they’re treated better. (Clarence Darrow was one of America’s most famous and influential attorneys; among many other notable cases, he defended teaching evolution in public schools during the Scopes “Monkey” Trial and argued against the death penalty while defending the infamous murderers Leopold and Loeb.)
Themes
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Burnham is frustrated by the bureaucracy of designing for the Fair. He holds a contest to design the Woman’s Building for the Fair; a woman wins the competition, and is paid 1,000 dollars, while the male architects who work with her are each paid 10,000. The Board of Architects agrees that there is no way to complete the buildings with steel and brick in time for the Opening Day ceremonies; the architects decide to use plaster and jute on the exteriors of all structures. Burnham hires a replacement for Root named Charles Atwood, a colorful opium addict who he thinks is a genius. Burnham places a sign in his office, “RUSH,” to remind him to complete his work for the Fair on time.
Burnham moves on after Root’s death, hiring another partner, who he seems to respect and whose idiosyncrasies he seems not to mind. With this new hire of Atwood, the group that designs the WF remains thoroughly masculine: while women are occasionally invited into the world of architecture, they’re paid less and treated with less respect. The architects recognize that they’re running out of time, but appearances are so important to their profession that they change their plans and redesign their buildings so they can be completed sooner.
Themes
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The World’s Columbian Exposition Company appoints officials to find exhibits to bring to the fair. One official, Colonel Mason Schufeldt, goes to Zanzibar to bring a tribe of Pygmies to Chicago.
The WF is evidence not only of America’s competition with Europe but of its domination over other parts of the world, like Africa.
Themes
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Unions continue to strike and demonstrate for better pay and hours. Jack the Ripper is rumored to have traveled to New York, where a brutal murder suggests his presence. Chicago authorities predict that the Fair will attract criminals to the city in record numbers, and try to establish a system for measuring all suspects’ physical features, so that no one is able to hide behind aliases.
The rumors of serial killers in America indicate that Chicago is becoming less “innocent” — as the city grows bigger and more chaotic, it no longer seems inconceivable that such things could happen. The complex method the authorities propose for catching criminals seems futile, underscoring the huge advantage over the law that criminals enjoy at the time.
Themes
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Ego and Cooperation Theme Icon
Civic Pride and American Patriotism Theme Icon