» The Devil In The White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America ~By Erik Larson

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Bike LogoThe Devil In The White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America ~By Erik Larson

Womens Building

Women's Building

In the 1890s Chicago created a Fair that would dramatically highlight the city and demonstrate where the United States was AT in the world of Industry and Architecture.  This is a very detailed and suspenseful book which one knows is non-fiction and yet reads like a page turner novel.  It is quite interesting.

The Architects in Chicago and the City Council won the contract for the next Exposition in the world.  This is the story about how the major city architects went grand and big and showed what they could do in the world.   During a time of recession and economic depression, the Chicago group and Congress put a lot of people to work and created what was to be known as the White City within the city.

All the little ins & outs and political moves were fascinating to study and see played out.  The amazing detail that Larson put into the book, such as how many nails were used and how many railroad cars it took to haul that many nails to the site, were fascinating.

The controversies that surround such a massive project were spelled out right on the page.  It was reassuring to see that the folks in New York City although called upon to design the fair and landscape the fair, were continually challenged in their feelings of entitlement to be considered the KINGs of the Country.  Chicago came into its own with this project.  (The West Coast folks still know the tyranny of the East Coast crowd)

The book contains a second story of one of the first serial killers H.H. Holmes who was beginning his horrific lifestyle concealed by the fair!  The book is a substantial murder mystery.

I was fascinated by the small vignette about the only woman architect Sophie Hayden who single handedly designed the Women’s Building and then was railroaded by the society women of the day into a massive depression and needed to be hospitalized.  Hayden is still highlighted for her design.

Some of the new and innovative take aways of the fair for me, were the arrival of the FERRIS WHEEL into our lives – we were, of course, competing with the Eiffel Tower in Paris.   Shredded Wheat, clean and pure drinking water  for the public, and  Public Electric Lighting  were also on display.  The way we do landscaping and city parks was radically changed from the exposition onward in our history and was greatly influenced my Olmstead’s group (Did Central Park in NYC and Vanderbilt Estate)

Some of the other fascinating details were the attendance records and how they played out in the depression.  The attempts to deal with the garbage created and the amazing weather conditions that had to be endured.   How many humans it took to build these temporary structures and how quickly the whole park / white city disappeared when the exposition concluded.

I think though it was not an event so full of the future, in reading this story I would say it was a shout out to the end of how architecture had always been done and it was a tribute to Roman style and beauty.  It is very poignant to me that while the Big Boys were working on the fair and new upstart was coming onto the scene in Chicago who would turn out to be part of the future of design – Frank Lloyd Wright.

I think one will find this book difficult to put down.   It is a well written study full of details and success.

Have you read a book recently that pointed to the future of architecture?  Please share it with us in the comments section.

Other Books You might enjoy:

The Architect by Barclay (Amazon)
 The Architects Enigma 

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Thu, March 1 2012 » Reading

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