Cosmography in the Modern Metropolis: Marking Sacred Order in "The Notre Dame Plan of Chicago 2109"

Philip Bess, University of Notre Dame

  • Date Oct 2, 2014
  • Venue Warner Memorial Library
    Eastern University
    1300 Eagle Road
    Saint Davids, PA 19087
Professor Philip Bess teaches graduate urban design and theory, with a particular interest in Catholic and classical humanist intellectual and artistic traditions in the context of modern American life and the contemporary culture of architecture and urban design. From 2004 to 2014 he was the School of Architecture’s Director of Graduate Studies. During the past decade his graduate urban design studios have completed master plan proposals for Lewis University (IL), Cooperstown (NY), Northampton (MA), Ventura (CA), and Skaneateles (NY), the latter of which won the 2011 Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Charter Award Academic Grand Prize. In the Fall of 2011 his studios began a multi-year project calledAfter Burnham: The Notre Dame Plan of Chicago 2109, which focuses upon contemporary metropolitan Chicago. In 2012 After Burnham was awarded a two-year grant from The Historical Society as part of the latter’s larger Religion and Innovation in Human Affairs project. It received a 2013 Award for Best Regional Plan from the Illinois Chapter of the CNU, and most recently a 2014 Special Academic Charter Award at the national meeting of the CNU.
Professor Bess has been a member in good standing of both the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Steelworkers union, and has been a cab driver in both Boston and Chicago. Before coming to Notre Dame in 2004 he lived and worked in Chicago, and at various times taught architecture at Notre Dame, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Michigan, Miami of Ohio, Calvin College, and Andrews University. From 1987-88 he was the director and principal designer of the NEA-and-Graham-Foundation-funded Urban Baseball Park Design Project of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); and in Boston in August 2000 he directed and coordinated the ultimately successful "Save Fenway Park!" design charrette, from which came contemporary Fenway’s famous ‘Monster Seats’ and other prominent renovations.
Professor Bess lectures widely, and is the author of numerous articles and three books: City Baseball Magic: Plain Talk and Uncommon Sense About Cities and Baseball Parks (Knothole, 1991); Inland Architecture: Subterranean Essays on Moral Order and Formal Order in Chicago (Interalia / Design, 2000); and Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Sacred (ISI, 2006). He holds an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Whittier College, a graduate degree in church history from Harvard, and a graduate degree in architecture from the University of Virginia. In 2013-14 he was a William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in Princeton University’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.
In his talk, Bess will discuss Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago as one of the last efforts (perhaps the greatest) to employ classical principles of architectural, landscape and urban design in and for and at the scale of a rapidly expanding modern industrial metropolitan region, consciously participating in western culture’s long tradition ---a metaphysical realist and sacramental tradition--- of classical humanist urbanism. But even as Burnham was proposing to both temper and refine Chicago’s animal spirits by means of a classical civic realm that could hold its own in the presence of Chicago commerce, a corresponding formal acknowledgment of sacred order is conspicuously absent in Burnham’s Plan. The Notre Dame Plan of Chicago 2109 picks up where Burnham left off, critiquing contemporary Chicago and proposing for it a 100-year vision comparable in pragmatic scale and scope — but also showing how the authority of both civic order and sacred order can be acknowledged in the formal order of a future Chicago in ways both classical and peculiarly American.