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Documentary Explores the Story of the Man Who Shaped Some of America’s Best-known Places

Washington, D.C. — “Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City,” a one-hour documentary, explores the life and legacy of visionary architect and city planner, Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912).  Burnham’s pioneering urban planning work helped set the standard for modern city planning in America leaving a lasting impact on our cities. “Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City” airs on PBS stations nationwide on Labor Day, Monday, September 6 at 10 p.m. ET (check local listings).

Daniel Hudson Burnham built some of the first skyscrapers in the world; directed construction of the World’s Columbian Exposition that helped inspire the City Beautiful Movement in towns across America; and created urban plans for San Francisco; Washington, DC; Chicago; Cleveland; and Manila and Baguio City in the Philippines, all before the modern profession of urban planning existed.

“He had a personality that was as big as the subject of cities,” explains architect David Childs, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, and one of many noted commentators in the film. “We should care about Burnham because he was part of a group that changed the idea about planning and architecture and because of the fact that our cities are full of the history that he caused to happen.”

Burnham’s work sought to reconcile things often thought opposite: the practical and the ideal; business and art; the power of capitalism and the spirit of democracy. In the midst of late nineteenth-century urban disorder, he offered a powerful concept of what a civilized American city could look like that provided a compelling framework for Americans to make sense of the world around them. But not all would agree with his vision. Critics charge that his designs are too monumental to be humane, too elitist to be democratic and too dependent upon European prototypes to be American. Yet his work impacts millions of people a day.

“Burnham was fully engaged in civic life,” says the film’s director, Judith Paine McBrien. “He made the architect a public figure. He was bold, inspiring, competitive and complex. We’ve worked hard to bring his big personality to life.”

Narrated by Oscar-nominated actress Joan Allen, the program combines digital models, original drawings, personal letters, animated graphics and stunning visuals to highlight dramatic developments that transformed both Burnham and the American city — the early development of the skyscraper; the awesome impact of the 1893 World’s Fair; and the physical reconfiguration of existing cities, including our nation’s capital. Insightful commentary by some of the country’s most distinguished historians, architects, critics and urban planners enlivens the story as does an original musical score by composer Michael Bacon.

“Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City” is a production of The Archimedia Workshop in association with WETA Washington, D.C. Produced and directed by Judith Paine McBrien. WETA executive producers are Dalton Delan and Karen Kenton.  Kartemquin Films and writer Geoffrey C. Ward consulted on the project. 

Corporate support for “Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City” is provided by William Blair & Company and Perkins & Will. Funding is also provided by The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, The Brinson Foundation, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity – Bureau of Tourism, National Endowment for the Humanities, The Joyce Foundation, The Annenberg Foundation, The Burnham Plan Centennial, Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in Fine Arts, and others.

WETA Washington, D.C., is the third-largest producing station for public television.  WETA’s other productions and co-productions include “PBS NewsHour,” “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill and National Journal,” “The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize,” “Benjamin Latrobe: America’s First Architect,” and documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns, including the premiere this September of “The Tenth Inning,” a continuation of the beloved “BASEBALL” series.  Sharon Percy Rockefeller is president and CEO.  More information on WETA and its programs and services is available at


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