Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

White City
Credit: UCLA Urban Simulation Team

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News Release

Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635

January 31, 2008

Editor's Note: This event has been cancelled. No events will be held the week of Feb. 18 due to the tragedy that took place on our campus Feb. 14, 2008.

Rebuilding the ‘White City’

UCLA architectural historian will give
virtual tour of 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition

DeKalb, Ill. — Nearly a century ago, some of the world’s top architects transformed a portion of Chicago’s South Side into a gleaming “White City” for the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition. Most of the architectural wonders are long gone, but UCLA’s Lisa Snyder can still take you on a stunning tour.

Snyder, a senior member of the Urban Simulation Team at UCLA, has created a highly detailed, computerized visual reconstruction of the exhibition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair. She will provide a virtual tour at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, in the Sky Room of the Holmes Student Center at Northern Illinois University.

Sponsored by the Friends of NIU Libraries, the event is free and open to the public.

The tour includes both static images and video simulations that provide a stroll through the White City. The Chicago Tribune has called it “the next best thing to a walk through the fairgrounds in all its glory.”

Snyder recently launched a two-year installation of the work-in-progress model with a series of presentations at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, the only major building surviving from the 1893 exhibition. She will discuss the challenges of building the exhibition from the remaining visual and textual evidence.

“This is absolutely cutting-edge digital humanities work,” says NIU’s Drew VandeCreek, director of University Libraries’ digitization unit. “Lisa uses very sophisticated technology. She works from architects’ original plans and drawings to provide users with an opportunity to explore a virtual model of a built environment that no longer exists.”

Recent popular novels such as “The Devil in the White City” and “Against the Day” have drawn increased interest in the World’s Columbian Exhibition. But it has long been considered a milestone event in American history. Its grounds covered more than 600 acres and featured canals, lagoons and nearly 200 buildings.

None other than Daniel Burnham served as director of works, coordinating a team of the country’s most prominent architects. Their White City would have lasting impacts on American design ideals and spark the American Renaissance and City Beautiful movements.

Snyder has also produced three-dimensional interactive models of historical structures for the Israel Antiquities Authority and the City of Los Angeles. Her work was recognized as being among “the best of UCLA” by the institution’s vice chancellor.

Sample images and video of the virtual White City can be found on the UCLA Urban Simulation Team’s Web site at