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SOM-designed Chicago Public Library branch, opens to the public

SOM-designed Chicago Public Library branch, opens to the public

Chicago — On January 17, 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.