Chicago – The Burnham Pavilion by Zaha Hadid

Place: Chicago, Country: United States
Year: 2009
Design: Zaha Hadid Architects, London
Local architect: Thomas Roszak
Main contractor: TenFab, Fabric Images
Text by Riccardo Bianchini
Images courtesy of Zaha Hadid Architects


Burnham Pavilion by Zaha Hadid Architects, 2009, photography © Roland Halbe

Zaha Hadid Architects – The Burnham Temporary Pavilion in Chicago

The Burnham Pavilions were two distinct temporary structures installed in Chicago’s Millenium Park in 2009 to celebrate the centennial of the city’s seminal urban conceived by American architect Daniel Burnham; the design commission for one of the two structures went to Zaha Hadid Architects and the other to Dutch architectural practice UNStudio.

”We asked Zaha Hadid and Ben van Berkel to inspire Chicago to think in new ways. A vast number of people have interacted with the powerful beauty of these innovative forms and discovered new ways to think about architecture and Chicago.” Said Emily J. Harris, executive director of the Burnham Plan Centennial Committee.

While the structure by UNStudio was an open shape mostly made of steel and plywood, the pavilion by Zaha Hadid was a cocoon-like construction made in aluminum and tensile fabric.


UNStudio, Burnham Pavilion, Chicago, 2009. photo courtesy of UNStudio







Rendering, plans, and elevations; images © Zaha Hadid Architects

Hadid’s idea was to design a temporary structure that expresses the potential of computer-aided design to create a complex geometry as lightweight as possible and made with recyclable and reusable components.

Therefore, ZHA designed a 1,300 square-foot shell-shaped pavilion composed of a 7000-piece bent-aluminum framework over which three layers of polyester-cotton blend fabric, to internal and one external, were stretched. The final construction cost amounted to $650,000.


The pavilion aluminum structure before the installation of the fabric layers


Cross-sections, images © Zaha Hadid Architects




Photos © Roland Halbe

The outer layer filters daylight to create a bright, translucent space; while the inner one is used as a projection surface for a 7-minute video installation depicting the history of Burnham’s Plan of Chicago, as well as a visionary project for the city, projects made by British filmmaker Thomas Gray.
The thin diagonal lines visible on the pavilion surface are a reminiscence of those conceived by Burnham for the Plan of Chicago.


Daniel Burnham, Plan of Chicago, Alternate Railway Station Scheme, 1909



Photos © Roland Halbe



Photos © Michelle Lilvin

“The design merges new formal concepts with the memory of bold historic urban planning. Superimpositions of spatial structures with hidden traces of Burnham’s organizational systems and architectural representations create unexpected results.” (from the project description by Zaha Hadid Architects).

Inaugurated August 4, 2009, ZHA’s Burnham Pavilion remained open until October 31; after which it was dismantled and its materials recycled, leaving no further trace of its brief existence.



Photos © Michelle Lilvin



Photos © Roland Halbe

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