The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893

A real-time visual simulation model currently under construction

(scroll down for videos and images)

Real-time visual simulation technology has the potential to radically alter our understanding of historic urban environments. Unlike fixed computer animations, real-time technology allows interactive exploration of the modeled site, thereby creating unprecedented opportunities for experiential interpretation and innovative pedagogy. The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 is a perfect test case for the educational applications of interactive computer models. The exposition was a milestone for American architecture and urban planning. As Director of Works, Daniel Burnham coordinated a team of the most notable architects in the country, each designing one of the fair’s major buildings. As a group, these architects created a classical city that would have lasting repercussions on American design ideals and spark the American Renaissance and City Beautiful movements. Our understanding of this important complex has heretofore been based solely on static images and written descriptions. This is no longer the case. Real-time visual simulation technology allows us to reclaim the lost experience of navigating through the White City. Just as in 1893, the completed model will allow users to stroll along the virtual Court of Honor, tour the Wooded Island, and marvel at the fair’s classical structures from a gondola.

The Columbian Exposition model builds on the Urban Simulation Team’s experience with contemporary urban environments and cultural heritage sites. The project is currently a work in progress. Plans for dissemination beyond the UCLA campus have yet to be determined. Inquiries from instructors, scholars, or institutions interested in collaboration or educational applications are welcome and should be directed to Lisa M. Snyder ( Special thanks to The Brinson Foundation for supporting research and construction on the model (most recently on the Wooded Island, work featured in the video clips and images below), and to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago for providing opportunities to share this project in public presentations. All content provided on this site is for educational use only; all rights reserved by UCLA and the Urban Simulation Team.


Two videos captured from the real-time computer model during an interactive flight session illustrate the most recent work on the exposition model. The Street in Cairo installation on the midway was one of the most popular attractions at the fair. Henry Ives Cobb worked from designs by Max Herz, an Austro-Hungarian architect working in Cairo (the one in Egypt!) for the Committee for the Conservation of Arab Art (the precursor to their present-day Supreme Council on Antiquities). The Transportation building by Louis Sullivan was one of the few major exhibition halls to be polychromed. Indeed, Sullivan's elaborate stencil and staff work was the talk of the fair and, according to a photo caption in "Columbian Exposition Reproduced," either "highly praised or utterly condemned." The Transportation building model was funded by a private donor. Scroll to the bottom of the page for links to additional short videos.

(most recent were posted August 27, 2012)

The images below were captured from the real-time computer model during an interactive flight session and illustrate the most recent work. (In this case, the Transportation building by Louis Sullivan, funded by a private donor. These images show the model as a work in progress with largely black and white textures; eventually these will be tinted to better represent the polychroming. Images immediately below that are of the Street of Cairo installation on the Midway.) Scroll to the bottom of the page for links to additional images. You may also visit the image archive for additional images organized by date in descending order.

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With funding from The Brinson Foundation, a limited edition of DVDs with video clips of the Columbian Exposition model has been fabricated and will be sent to educators free of charge. To request a copy, e-mail Lisa M. Snyder ( with your name, the name of your school/institution, the title of the class in which you'd use the footage, the level of your students, and your mailing address. Most of the clips below are on the DVD and may also be used in the classroom. The sizes on these vary, so depending on your Internet connection, you may want to download them for playback. There is purposefully no sound so that they can be incorporated into a range of classroom narratives.

- ONLY AVAILABLE ONLINE! An edited piece that establishes the exposition and then shows the Spectatorium both at the point it was abandoned and as if completed (9:20, 117mg); a higher resolution version of the same Spectatorium clip (250mg)

- ONLY AVAILABLE ONLINE! Posted June 29 ... the first formal test of the continuous screen capture feature in the new NEH-funded real-time interface software (VSim) being developed here at UCLA and specifically designed for pedagogical use of these types of 3D models: video from the Street in Cairo installation on the Midway Plaisance (1:33; both the model and the software are works in progress ... the clip has some jerks and the model is not finished, but still interesting, especially when compared to the January 2013 clip of the Street that's posted above).

- On the south loop of the elevated intramural near the Convent of La Rabida, the Caravels, and the Agriculture building (0:47)
- Riding along a portion of the northern-most section of the elevated intramural through the country and state zones of the fair (3:56)
- A water approach to the South Pond area, beginning at the pier, then on to the movable sidewalk, the Convent of La Rabida, the Caravels, and into the Court of Honor (4:40)
- The buildings of the Court of Honor: Agriculture, the Peristyle, Manufactures, Electricity, Administration, and Machinery (2:43)
- A boat ride in the lagoon beginning at the Manufactures boat landing and ending at the Japanese Pavilion (2:51)
-On the Wooded Island moving from south to north and ending up at the Japanese Pavilion (5:48)
- A water approach to the Fine Arts building before walking through the state zone (4:54)
- A walk through the country zone showing Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Brazil before touring the schematic models of the other country buildings (5:26)
- A walk around and into the Fine Arts building, ending with a view south down the lagoon towards the Brazil building and Darrow Bridge (3:45)

Also, from October 2009, high-definition footage of the UST exposition model was created for the documentary "Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City." This clip has been edited together from that footage. This is a large file, best downloaded and viewed, rather than viewed online. (5:20) Older videos created over the course of the project are linked at the bottom of this page.


STATIC IMAGES: The images below were captured from the computer model during interactive flight sessions, and illustrate the general state of the model with the views organized by date in descending order. The uppermost images feature the Spectatorium, an ill-fated development scheme of theater impresario Steele MacKaye. (This work was done in conjunction with Canadian scholar Joe Sokalski, author of "Pictorial Illusionism: the theatre of Steele MacKaye," and shows the building both when construction stopped in 1893 and as if it had been completed.) Below the images of the Spectatorium are images posted March through August 2010 of the Brazil, Costa Rica, and Guatemala buildings, plus some basic massing for Turkey, Venezuela, Columbia, East India, and Sweden. Scroll to the bottom of the page for links to additional videos or visit the image archive for additional images.

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Links to videos of the recent work on Wooded Island captured from the computer model during interactive flight sessions are available below. The final three are large files; you may want to download them to your own computer before trying to view them.
- An aerial view of the island, beginning and ending from on top of the dome of the Illinois Building (2:53).
- A boat ride beginning near the Court of Honor and moving north along the east side of the island (3:27).
- A second boat ride, this one moving south along the west side of the island (2:26).
- Part 1 of a walk through the island, moving north from the bridge at Hunter's Island (7:01).
- Part 2 of the walk, picking up at Horticulture and moving north to the Japanese pavilions (6:30).
- The complete tour of the island, at double speed, so at a jogging pace (6:41).
Scroll to the bottom of the page for links to additional videos.


(1) Court of Honor footage with embedded source imagery (4:10; images and filters to create the 'old footage' segments were added in post-production)
(2) Court of Honor footage at pedestrian level (9:47)
(3) Boat ride through the Lagoon with embedded images (2:57; images added in post-production)
(4) Boat ride from the Court of Honor to the Fine Arts Building at dusk (6:34)
(5) Walk along the Mall in the northern end of the exposition (8:09; shows state buildings for Maine, Vermont, Massachussets, New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Nebraska)
(6) The Fine Arts Building with embedded images (3:45; images added in post-production)

OLDER (and a few silly) VIDEO FILES

(7) Two clips from the same raw footage of the Court of Honor with different post-production filters: the lost footage (1:54, appears as very old film), and watercolor (1:54, a painterly approach)
(8) Two clips of the state building zone: approach to FineArts from the south (0:58), and a looser cinemagraphic take (1:04)
(9) Flight from Wooded Island to the Court of Honor (1:12)

STUDENT SURVEYS: Click on the following links to read what students in undergraduate students had to say about using the interactive real-time simulation model of the exposition as an instructional technology: UCLA summer course on 20th century American history, UofH large-enrollment history class, and small UofH 'America through Sight & Sound' seminar. (Thanks to UCLA's Academic Technology Services for use of equipment in these classroom sessions.)

SINGLE PAGE FLYER: Click on the following link to open a short, printable flyer about the exposition project.