As Chicago plays host to architecture buffs and design fans during the Biennial, an upcoming event harkens back to another time when the city and its buildings commanded a global audience. Exploring the White City and Its Architects, a one-day event at the city's Museum of Science and Industry on October 24, offers something fans of Devil in the White City have been clamoring for, a chance, however briefly (and digitally), to tour the 663-acre site of the famous 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. The work of UCLA Professor and architectural historian Dr. Lisa M. Snyder, the simulation is more IMAX than Oculus Rift; viewers are given a tour of the grounds on a large screen they can't steer, though it will be narrated in part by Tim Samuelson, the cultural historian for the City of Chicago. According to Jeff Buonomo, the museum's manager of temporary exhibits and events, the once-a-year event has taken place for roughly the last decade, but every year, Snyder adds more digital real estate to her model, slowly finishing interiors and placing additional building as she discovers and processes more source material (mostly black-and-white photos). Even when stacked up against modern events and festivals, the scale of the Exposition still impresses.
"There's so much mystery about the fair, that romantic element," Buonomo says. "People find that so audacious, that the city was able to pull it off in 1893. I'm not sure a world's fair could have been done in this day and age."
Very few remnants of the famed White City from Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition still stand. The Museum of Science and Industry, on the city's south side, was once the Palace of Fine arts. Unlike the other, more temporary structures that comprised the White City, this one was built of stone and made to be fireproof material, a means to reassure those donating art that this building wouldn't be leveled in a blaze (Chicago still hadn't shaken the Great Fire reputation at the turn of the century).
Snyder hopes the simulation gives viewers a fresh perspective on the fair. During the tour, they can see the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, then the biggest structure in the world, view Louis Sullivan's Transportation Building, which he painted bright red, and even take a hot air balloon and soar above the fairgrounds. No word if Snyder's work may help inform moviemakers set on recreating the fair for an upcoming film, but it certainly seems like a good start.
∙ Devil in the Details: Can DiCaprio & Scorsese Recreate Devil in the White City? [Curbed]
∙ Can Set Design for Devil in the White City Recreate the Columbian Exposition? [Curbed]
∙ Exploring the Architectural Backstories of Chicago's Museums [Curbed Chicago]