Burnham Pavilion: Tensile Structures in Architecture
The Burnham Pavilion
Client: Burnham Plan Centennial
Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects
Local architect: Thomas Roszak
Structural engineers: Rockey Structures
Fabricator: Fabric Images
Lighting & electrical: Tracey Dear
Multimedia content: The Gray Circle
• The Burnham
Pavilions were public sculptures by Zaha
Hadid and Ben van Berkel in Millennium
Park, which were located in
the Loop community area
of Chicago, Illinois.
• Both pavilions were located in the Chase
• The sculptures were privately funded and
reside in Millennium Park. The pavilions
were designed to be temporary structures
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago and symbolize the
city's continued pursuit of the Plan's architectural vision with contemporary architecture and
planning the Burnham Pavilion installations were built.
The iconic centerpieces of the Burnham Plan Centennial are two temporary architectural pavilions in Millennium
Park. World renowned architects Zaha Hadid (London), and Ben van Berkel (UNStudio, Amsterdam) designed these bold
Pavilions to echo the audacious future-looking images and words of the Burnham Plan: “What we as a people decide to do
in the public interest we can and surely will bring to pass.”
The Burnham Pavilions opened to the public on June 19, 2009, when the Grant Park Symphony and Chorus simultaneously
premiered a new work composed by Michael Torke called Plans that commemorates the words most often attributed to
Daniel Burnham: “Make No Little Plans.”
Tailored architecture, dazzling video and star seamstresses
“Fabric is both a traditional and a high-tech material whose form is directly related to the forces
applied to it – creating beautiful geometries that are never arbitrary. I find this very exciting.”
The entire pavilion, with its
curving forms and openings,
suggests a conch shell.
The whiteness of the pavilion
and its organic shape seem
appropriate, given that it sits
in a waterfront park. It's a
mix of alien object and
“The Burnham Plan Centennial is all about celebrating the bold
plans and big dreams of Daniel Burnham’s visionary Plan of
Chicago. It’s about reinvention and improvement on an urban
scale and about welcoming the future with innovative ideas and
technologies. Our design continues Chicago’s renowned tradition
of cutting edge architecture and engineering, at the scale of a
temporary pavilion, whilst referencing the organizational systems
of Burnham’s Plan. The structure is aligned with a diagonal in
Burnham’s early 20th Century Plan of Chicago. We then
overlay fabric using contemporary 21st Century techniques to
generate the fluid, organic form – while the structure is always
articulated through the tensioned fabric as a reminder of
Burnham’s original ideas.”
The structure is at ground
level, with entrances on the
north and south sides.
The park's open space will
flow right through the
It will be an object in the
landscape but part of the
The pavilion's north
entrance resembles a
shark's open mouth, ready
to swallow you.
The curving aluminium trusses with slit-eye skylights between them---oblong slits along the top
of the pavilion for skylights.
As captivating as this inside/outside room promises to be, it really will be animated by Gray's
video installation. It will make your flat screen TV looking boring. The installation consists of two
projectors in the pavilion's back wall and another projector that is hidden in the space between
the outer and inner layers of fabric. It's 11 feet high by 24 feet wide. It should engage park
visitors and get them excited about the Burnham Plan without being didactic.
The many colours of the Burnham Pavilion
Go at dusk or at night. The pavilion also will be lit from below and will seem, more than ever,
like an object that has landed from outer space.
The Burnham Pavilion by Zaha Hadid Architects
utilizes curvilinear forms created by
individually bent aluminium pieces
welded together and covered by yards of
tailor made tightly fitting material on the
interior and exterior of the structure.
The pavilion's structural framework consists of
7,000 pieces of aluminium.
Each panel is zippered
into place, with the
seams fitting precisely
over the curving
They are covered by 24 custom-made panels of
polyester material, the same fabric that's used
for awnings and tents.
An inner layer of fabric defines the pavilion's interior. It curves around rather dazzlingly,
sometimes at an angle to the floor.
The interplay of light and shadow changes as the skylights cast shadows on the curving interior
walls during the day. In the evening, a film installation by artist Thomas Gray is projected onto
the fluid fabric interior from different points inside the pavilion, creating a fully immersive
Zaha Hadid Architects’ pavilion also works within the larger framework of the Centennial
celebrations’ commitment to deliberate the future of cities.
The presence of the new structure triggers the visitor’s intellectual curiosity whilst an
intensiﬁ cation of public life around and within the pavilion supports the idea of
The pavilion was designed and
built to maximize the recycling
and re-use of the materials after
its role in Millennium Park. It can
be re-installed for future use at
Zaha Hadid Architects’ pavilion design for Chicago’s Burnham Plan Centennial celebrates the
city’s ongoing tradition of bold plans and big dreams.
The design merges new formal concepts
with the memory of bold historic urban
Superimpositions of spatial
structures with hidden traces of
Burnham’s organizational systems
and architectural representations
create unexpected results.
By using methods of overlaying,
complexity is build up and inscribed
in the structure.
Examining Burnham's drawings in the Plan of Chicago, Hadid was struck by how the city's
diagonal streets open up the otherwise rigid street grid. Lengthening the drawn line of one of
the diagonals, she marked where the street would fall if extended into Millennium Park. The
design for the Burnham Pavilion incorporates that line, as the structural ribs and openings in the
roof run parallel to an imaginary extension of Daniel Burnham's diagonal streets. The result is
Hadid's sinuous pavilion that plays with shadow, light and space.
I think it will be a reasonable assumption to assume that Zaha hadid gets inspired from new
The pavilion is described as resembling a
"futuristic camping tent".
You can either love it or hate it, but it is impossible to be indifferent to Hadid’s provocative
and visionary contribution to the celebration of the Burnham plan.