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The Virtual Burnham Initiative

September 10th, 2010 by
Contributed by:  Donnie Sendelbach, Director of Instructional and Learning Services/Director of ITAP

burnhamThe Virtual Burnham Initiative, a multimedia project creating 3-D models from a 1909 Chicago city plan by Daniel H. Burnham and Edward H. Bennett (Plan of Chicago often referred to as the Burnham Plan), received a National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Humanities Start-up Grant in 2008 and currently is their featured project.  The NEH is currently accepting applications for its next round until October 5, 2010.  To learn more about applying for this next round, you can visit their web site or contact Donnie Sendelbach, who served as Co-director of the Virtual Burnham Initiative before coming to DePauw.

While components of the Burnham Plan were implemented to create modern Chicago, students using SketchUp and Google Earth brought to life other components that were not implemented in reality, including buildings in Grant Park (see photo above). The flat images from the Burnham Plan were transformed into models enabling 360º views and placed within Google Earth’s modern Chicago, which takes the Burnham Plan to another level of visualization while merging past planning with current reality. If you have Google Earth on your computer, you can download files from the VBI website to view yourself.  Through 3-D modeling, students and scholars are able to visualize how Chicago could have developed while considering the possibilities for future city planning. Through additional historical information, they can also study how city politics shaped the building of Chicago as the new field of city planning evolved.

Chicago area high schools and universities along with city administrators have contributed to the VBI, which is, to quote the grant application, “a project about the community that can become part of the community offering a heretofore impossible organization of material related to the Plan with a unique application of different virtual modeling technologies to enhance collaborative humanities scholarship.”  Students who worked on the project developed an appreciation for architectural history, city planning, and research decision-making as the Plan’s series of sketches include multiple variants for a given building.  One of the students creating these models, Michael Ojdana (Lake Forest Class of 2008), is currently working at Convergence Training creating 3-D models after he graduated from DePaul University with an M.S. with a Digital Cinema: 3-D Animation Concentration.

For more information on the project, please view this video inviting others to participate:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/ru-J2MVtRM4" width="345" height="280" wmode="transparent" /]


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