Chicago Public Library, Chinatown Branch

CPL
CPL
CPL
  • Client Chicago Public Library
  • Expertise Cultural, Interiors
  • Region North America
  • Location Chicago, Illinois, United States

An instantly recognizable local landmark, this contemporary library with a range of flexible spaces has been hailed as a model for how civic facilities can serve community members of all ages.

Project Facts
  • Status Construction Complete
  • Completion Year 2015
  • Size Site Area: 24,109 square feet Building Height: 42 feet Number of Stories: 2 Building Gross Area: 16,370 square feet
  • Awards
    2017, Interior Architecture Award: Citation of Merit, AIA – Chicago Chapter 2017, Distinguished Building Award: Citation of Merit, AIA – Chicago Chapter 2017, IDEAS2 - Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Stee, American Institute Of Steel Construction 2014, Honorable Mention: IIDA Library Interior Design Awards, International Interior Design Association (IIDA) Decade of Design 2015, Building of the Year: Midwest, Architect'S Newspaper 2016, AIA/ALA Library Building Award, AIA, the American Library Association/Library Leadership and Management Association 2016, Library Interior Design Award, International Interior Design Association, American Library Association 2016, Emerald Green Building Innovation Award, United States Green Building Council 2016, Vision Award: Public Investment Category, Urban Land Institute Chicago Chapter 2016, National Award of Merit for Civic/Assembly, Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) 2016, Building Team Awards, Building Design & Construction 2016, Systematic Public Library of the Year Finalist, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions 2017, Second Place: The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excell, Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards 2017, Louis Sullivan Award, AIA – Illinois Chapter 2018, National Honor Award for Interior Architecture, American Institute of Architects (AIA)
  • Sustainability Certifications LEED BD+C NC (New Construction) Platinum, BD+C, Platinum
  • Collaborators
    Wight & Company Dzse Dbhms - Chicago Terra Engineering, Ltd Site Design Group, Ltd. Shen Milsom & Wilke John Lyle & Associates, Inc. Drucker Zajdel Structural Engineers, Inc.
Project Facts
  • Status Construction Complete
  • Completion Year 2015
  • Size Site Area: 24,109 square feet Building Height: 42 feet Number of Stories: 2 Building Gross Area: 16,370 square feet
  • Awards
    2017, Interior Architecture Award: Citation of Merit, AIA – Chicago Chapter 2017, Distinguished Building Award: Citation of Merit, AIA – Chicago Chapter 2017, IDEAS2 - Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Stee, American Institute Of Steel Construction 2014, Honorable Mention: IIDA Library Interior Design Awards, International Interior Design Association (IIDA) Decade of Design 2015, Building of the Year: Midwest, Architect'S Newspaper 2016, AIA/ALA Library Building Award, AIA, the American Library Association/Library Leadership and Management Association 2016, Library Interior Design Award, International Interior Design Association, American Library Association 2016, Emerald Green Building Innovation Award, United States Green Building Council 2016, Vision Award: Public Investment Category, Urban Land Institute Chicago Chapter 2016, National Award of Merit for Civic/Assembly, Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) 2016, Building Team Awards, Building Design & Construction 2016, Systematic Public Library of the Year Finalist, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions 2017, Second Place: The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excell, Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards 2017, Louis Sullivan Award, AIA – Illinois Chapter 2018, National Honor Award for Interior Architecture, American Institute of Architects (AIA)
  • Sustainability Certifications LEED BD+C NC (New Construction) Platinum, BD+C, Platinum
  • Collaborators
    Wight & Company Dzse Dbhms - Chicago Terra Engineering, Ltd Site Design Group, Ltd. Shen Milsom & Wilke John Lyle & Associates, Inc. Drucker Zajdel Structural Engineers, Inc.

Envisioning a library as a community center

This two-story branch library is a civic, educational, and social hub in Chicago’s Chinatown. The bronze aluminum and glass enclosed structure is an instantly recognizable local landmark, easily accessible by public transit to serve residents of the surrounding Armour Square, South Loop, and Bridgeport neighborhoods. The former Chinatown library was one of the most visited of Chicago Public Library’s (CPL) eighty locations. Before selecting the architects for its replacement, the city’s Public Building Commission hosted a session for community members, librarians, and other stakeholders to envision what the new library should be. The group concluded that a modern urban branch library goes beyond being a source of encyclopedic knowledge and should serve as a community anchor where citizens can connect with global resources and ideas.

Chicago Public Library Chinatown Branch
Chicago Public Library – Chinatown Branch © Jon Miller | Hedrich Blessing

Flexible spaces for everyone

SOM’s team worked closely with CPL officials and with architect of record Wight & Co. to design a highly efficient building for present and future flexibility, geared toward inclusive community activities and driven by technology-based learning. Throughout the 16,000-square-foot library, a sequence of interconnected spaces creates a sense of discovery and exploration. The community area is fully visible from the street, allowing library patrons to look out at the urban surroundings and for pedestrians to take notice of the activities inside.

Chicago Public Library Chinatown Branch
© Jon Miller | Hedrich Blessing
CPL
© Jon Miller | Hedrich Blessing

An open plan with very few enclosed spaces accommodates multiple uses and arrangements of furniture and fixtures over time. The children’s zone, exhibition space, central circulation hall, and a community meeting area occupy the ground level. The placement of the community space allows it to serve as a flexible, multipurpose room at the center of the library, useful for lectures, tutoring, quiet reading, lounging, and special events. A double-height hall and grand stair link the ground level to the teen YOUmedia zone and adult reading rooms above. Eye-height bookshelves in these areas create a sense of openness while still allowing for the creation of informal collaborative areas and intimate reading spots. A brightly colored acoustical curtain defines the teen zone. The spaces also include a multimedia storytelling area and are furnished with tables for homework and play.


Artful design and planning

Located on the second level wall is a mixed-media mural by artist CJ Hungerman. The eight-foot-high by sixty-foot-long artwork, titled “Universal Transverse Immigration Proclamation,” was commissioned through Chicago’s Public Art Program. The artist engaged the community in workshops to understand the area’s history and to gather generations of personal experiences before distilling it into an expression of Chinatown’s past, present, and future, through marker and paint.

CPL
© Jon Miller | Hedrich Blessing

The building’s south-facing entrance, a softened triangular shape, and gentle interior circulation, references feng shui design principles. Like a traditional Chinese courtyard plan, all spaces connect to the central atrium room, providing clear orientation and spatial cohesion. The soft curves of the three-sided structure match the alignment of the avenues, without creating sharp corners. This allows for a fluid movement of pedestrians, abundant landscaping, and visibility from all sides of the building. Vertical shading fins juxtapose an ultratransparent, high-performance glass curtain wall that maximizes visibility and makes the building appear as a glowing lantern at night.

CPL
© Jon Miller | Hedrich Blessing
CPL
© Jon Miller | Hedrich Blessing

Sustainable design

A comprehensive sustainability strategy has earned the building a LEED Platinum rating. Features include radiant cooling and heating, in-ground thermal storage tanks, a green roof, in-ground stormwater retention system, and natural daylighting technologies. A solar shading screen integrated into the building’s glass curtain wall reduces heat gain without compromising views and allows the building to consume 30 percent less energy than a typical library, while providing 70 percent vision glazing.

Comprehensive passive design strategies include the placement of the building core to the west to further reduce solar gain and glare. Low-energy LED lighting is used throughout the building and permeable paving with a high infiltration rate reduces the rate and quantity of stormwater runoff. The result is a building that has been recognized as a model for the sustainable design of new civic facilities.

CPL

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