AIA Illinois gave its Frank Lloyd Wright Award to the Chicago Public Library West Loop Branch for enhancing the natural and built environment of a community through the new design or renovation of an individual building.
Formerly part of the campus of a television production company, the interiors of the original buildings had been heavily segmented and modified to meet the needs of television production. The expansive wooden ceiling trusses had been concealed, historic brick walls hidden, hardwood floors tarnished, and partition walls erected throughout to minimize daylight and views through the space. Outside, beige stucco and painted brick allowed it to blend into its surroundings. Beginning in 2017, the design team, lead by Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP, identified areas of opportunity to unify the two buildings with a powerful contextual exterior and unique interior spaces, to realize the most significant impact for library patrons, while preserving the historic elements of the buildings.
The 16,500-square-foot library includes several contemporary features framed by a series of architectural and graphic interventions throughout the building. It has adult and children’s reading spaces, flexible community and meeting rooms and a teen digital learning space with a recording studio. A Tinkering Lab offers digital and maker space for young 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.
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 and warehouse architecture. Nonstructural walls that divided former television studios and office spaces were removed throughout the 16,500-square-foot space. New openings were created in a common wall of the conjoined buildings to create a unified interior. Low-level bookshelves are featured throughout the reading spaces.
For more information, visit www.aiail.org/2019honorawards, and www.som.com/projects/chicago_public_library__west_loop_branch.