Arnold, The Court of Honor at the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893)

The appearance of the Court of Honor, the visual and ideological centerpiece of the exposition, was the main source of the fair’s broad influence in the fields of architecture and planning. This sway would probably not have been possible without the dazzling photographs taken by Charles Dudley Arnold. An architectural photographer hired by Burnham to document the ephemeral fair, Arnold took some 400 photographs during the construction and another 300 during the course of the fair. These images were disseminated around the globe in promotional and journalistic publications, were sold as individual photographs and in albums to tourists, and were reproduced in countless souvenir publications.

The Board of Architects conceived the Court as an ensemble, whose effect owed more to the unity of the set than to individual structures. They achieved this harmony through a shared vocabulary of Classical and Renaissance forms—a uniform cornice height of 60 feet and the consistent use of bays 25 feet wide. The axial arrangement of the buildings enhanced the formal discipline of the Court.

The network of waterways threaded through the grounds was both practical and symbolic. The basin, canals, lagoons, and ponds were formed when the low-lying grounds were dredged to create higher land for the buildings. The waterways, traversed during the fair by gondolas and electric boats, fulfilled John Root’s ambition to emulate the picturesque grandeur of Venice. Sculptural compositions animated by electric fountains, such as the Barge of State carrying Columbus (at right), designed by sculptor Frederick MacMonnies, added to the spectacle.

Burnham and Bennett adapted many of the fair’s signature features—coordinated, large-scale planning (integrating buildings, landscaping, and transportation), axial arrangements, the aesthetic and practical use of waterways, and architectural ensembles designed in historic styles—for their proposals in the Plan of Chicago.



Hales, Peter B. Constructing the Fair. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1993.

Harris, Neil and Wim de Wit, James Gilbert, Robert Rydell. Grand Illusions: Chicago's World's Fair of 1893. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1993.

Brown, Julie K. Contesting Images: Photography and the World's Columbian Exposition. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1994.



World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Paul V. Galvin Library Digital History Collection – Illinois Institute of Technology.

Charles Dudley Arnold, “Court of Honor, World's Columbian Exposition.” Chicago History Museum, ICHi-18013