People, Press Releases

SOM-Designed Chicago Public Library, West Loop Branch, Opens to the Public

On January 17th, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Library Commissioner Brian Bannon, with local civic and business leaders, inaugurated the Chicago Public Library, West Loop Branch, the first-ever public library in the neighborhood and the 81st branch for the city. Donated to the City of Chicago by developer Sterling Bay as part of the ongoing development and transformation of the West Loop, and designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), the two-story adaptive reuse project preserves the building’s industrial character while creating a new cultural and social center for the neighborhood.

“The Chicago Public Library system provides a vital community anchor for families to gather, students to get homework help and job-seekers to connect with life-changing opportunities,” said Mayor Emanuel. “The new West Loop library branch is a proud example of how city officials come together with private partners to build strong neighborhoods, and provide a place for all community residents to gather, share and succeed.”

The new, 16,500-square-foot library includes several contemporary features, framed by a series of architectural and graphic interventions throughout the building. It includes adult and children's reading spaces, flexible community and meeting rooms, and a YOUmedia teen digital learning space with a recording studio. A “Tinkering Lab” offers digital and maker space for younger children, who are also served by several early learning areas that transform existing alcoves into storytelling rooms with interactive play elements and walls with magnetic and writeable surfaces.

“The unique architecture and scale of the West Loop reflects a vital part of Chicago’s industrial history, while the growing residential and mixed-use character of the neighborhood points to an exciting vision of the city’s future,” said SOM Design Partner Brian Lee. “By preserving the original building structure and carefully adapting it for the much-needed community library, the West Loop Branch is at the center of this Chicago story. It creates a key neighborhood hub and serves as a warm and welcoming public destination for visitors from all parts of Chicago.”

Formed of two existing conjoined buildings, the library features a weathered steel exterior, which develops a protective rust-like patina over time, to unify the facade and guide visitors through the steel-framed entrance. The renovated interior exposes the previously concealed original bow-truss ceilings and skylights to create a light-filled, loft-like space that reflects the West Loop’s factory-warehouse style. Non-structural walls that divided former TV studios and office spaces were removed throughout the 16,500-square-foot space, while new openings were created in the common wall of the conjoined buildings to create a unified interior, while low-level bookshelves are featured throughout the reading spaces to foster a sense of visual continuity and movement.

In addition to providing a new library and community center for the neighborhood, the West Loop Library joins other city libraries in providing free, after-school tutoring and learning assistance within a high-quality, modern branch environment.

About Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) is one of the leading architecture, interior design, engineering, and urban planning firms in the world. Since its founding more than 80 years ago, SOM has earned a reputation for design excellence with a portfolio that includes some of the most important architectural accomplishments of the 20th and 21st centuries, and has been a leader in the research and development of specialized technologies, new processes and innovative ideas, many of which have had a palpable and lasting impact on the design profession and the physical environment. The firm’s longstanding leadership in design and building technology has been honored with nearly 2,000 awards for quality, innovation, and management. The American Institute of Architects has recognized SOM twice with its highest honor, the Architecture Firm Award—in 1962 and again in 1996. The firm maintains offices in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., London, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Mumbai.

About Sterling Bay

Sterling Bay is a leading investment and development company with expertise spanning all aspects of real estate ownership. Known for creating world-class urban campuses for companies such as Google, McDonald’s, Uber, Glassdoor, Dyson, Hillshire Brands and Gogo, Sterling Bay is consistently recognized for award-winning projects that transform space, enhance communities and strengthen a company’s culture and brand. Sterling Bay’s team of more than 200 professionals is responsible for a portfolio exceeding $3 billion, and a development pipeline in excess of $8.7 billion.

About Chicago Public Library

Since 1873, the Chicago Public Library has encouraged lifelong learning by welcoming all people and offering equal access to information, entertainment and knowledge through innovative services and programs, as well as cutting-edge technology. Through its 80 locations, the Library provides free access to a rich collection of materials, both physical and digital, and presents the highest quality author discussions, exhibits and programs for children, teens and adults. CPL was recently selected as the first public library system in the nation to win a National Summer Learning Association award, becoming the inaugural winner of NSLA’s Founder’s Award; received the Social Innovator Award from Chicago Innovation Awards; won a National Medal for Library Services from the Institute for Museum and Library Services and was ranked number one in the U.S. and third in the world by an international study of major urban libraries conducted by the Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf in Germany.