Burnham, Alan, 1913-1984

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Alan Burnham was born on February 10, 1913 in Englewood, New Jersey. He spent his early childhood in Philadelphia, later attending preparatory schools in Connecticut and Colorado. In 1931, he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend Harvard University. There, he would meet lifelong friends, Henry Hope Reed, architectural critic, and Wayne Andrews, architectural photographer, who he would correspond and collaborate with for the entirety of his professional career. Burnham graduated from Harvard in 1935 with a Bachelor of Science and went on to receive a Bachelor of Architecture from Columbia University in 1940. In 1939, he obtained from Richard Barren Hunt a copy of Catherine Howland Hunt’s manuscript chronicling the life of her husband, Richard Morris Hunt. Burnham’s work editing and indexing the Hunt manuscript sparked an enduring fascination in the career of the 19th century architect.

After receiving his architectural degree, Burnham worked as an architect, but always maintained an active interest in the study of American architectural history. In 1953, he served on the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter’s Committee on Housing, authoring a committee report entitled The Dwelling in Greater Manhattan: The Apartment 1850-1895, chronicling the history of apartment housing in New York City. While working as an associate at Shanley & Sturges, Burnham served as a member of the Municipal Arts Society’s Committee on Historic Architecture under the tutelage of his employer and Committee Chairman, Walter Knight Sturges. He succeeded Sturges as chairman and through the Municipal Arts Society, authored a broad survey of New York City’s historic architecture called New York Landmarks: A Study & Index of Architecturally Notable Structures in Greater New York, later published by Wesleyan University Press in 1963. In the course of his research for both the AIA and the MAS, Burnham began acquiring reference materials that evolved into his American Architectural Archive. Burnham saw the archive as his contribution to the study of architectural history, amassing a great wealth of publications, photographs, and prints catalogued for use by other historians.

Throughout his career, Burnham was a member of numerous preservation organizations, such as the Friends of Cast Iron Architecture, the Society of Architectural Historians, and the Victorian Society in America, as well as worked on a variety of preservation projects, such as the Jefferson Market Courthouse, the Greenwich Christ Rectory, and the Brooklyn Heights Historic District. His unwavering commitment to the preservation of America’s historic structures established him as a founder of the burgeoning preservation movement in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. From 1965 to 1973, Burnham served as the Executive Director of New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. After 1973, he stayed on at the Landmarks Preservation Commission as their Director of Research. Burnham also served as a member of the Connecticut Historic Commission and the Historic District Commission of Greenwich. He died in 1984 at the age of 71. Burnham left unfinished his work on a biography of Richard Morris Hunt, a compendium of New York City public squares, and an annotated biography of New York City, published posthumously as New York City: The Development of a Metropolis.


Burnham, Alan. New York Landmarks: A Study & Index of Architecturally Notable Structures in Greater New York. (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1963).

“Ennis, Thomas W. “Director of Landmarks Panel Quits on Advice of Physician.” (New York: The New York Times, November 24, 1965), 48.

Fraser, C. Gerald. “Alan Burnham is Dead at 71; Architect and Preservationist.” (New York: The New York Times, March 5, 1984), B11.

From the guide to the Alan Burnham papers, 1874-1999, (bulk 1940-1982), (Columbia University. Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Dept. of Drawings & Archives, )

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Alan Burnham : vertical file. Centre canadien d'architecture, | Canadian Centre for Architecture | CCA
referencedIn Henry Hope Reed papers, 1911-1998 Columbia University. Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library. Dept. of Drawings & Archives,
creatorOf Alan Burnham papers, 1874-1999, (bulk 1940-1982) Columbia University. Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library. Dept. of Drawings & Archives,
referencedIn Haskell, Douglas Putnam, 1899-1979. Douglas Putnam Haskell papers, 1866-1979 (bulk 1949-1964). Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Institute of Architects. corporateBody
associatedWith Davis, Andrew Jackson, 1826-1910 person
associatedWith Friends of Cast Iron Architecture. corporateBody
associatedWith Haskell, Douglas Putnam, 1899-1979. person
associatedWith Hunt, Richard Morris, 1828-1895 person
associatedWith McKim, Mead & White. corporateBody
associatedWith Municipal Art Society of New York. corporateBody
associatedWith New York (N.Y.). corporateBody
associatedWith Reed, Henry Hope, 1915-2013 person
associatedWith Withers, Frederick Clarke, 1828-1901 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
New York (N.Y.)
Architectural firms--United States
Architecture--New York (State)--New York
Architecture--United States
Parks--New York (State)--New York
Neighborhoods--New York (State)--New York
Architectural firms--New York (State)--New York


Birth 1913

Death 1984


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