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SOM’s New Chinatown Branch Library Opens to the public in Chicago

United States Architecture News - Dec 02, 2015 - 22:19   6814 views

SOM’s New Chinatown Branch Library Opens to the public in Chicago

all images © Jon Miller / Hedrich Blessing

all drawings © SOM

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP (SOM), in conjunction with the Chicago Public Library (CPL), the Public Building Commission of Chicago (PBC), and Wight & Company, officially announced the opening of the new Chinatown Branch Library, located on Chicago’s Near South Side. New library building covers 16,000 sf. area, designed by SOM and constructed by The PBC and CPL jointly selected the Design Build team of SOM and Wight & Co. This new building creates a new civic, educational, and social hub for Chinatown, providing a much-needed public branch library geared toward inclusive community activities and driven by technology-based learning. 

SOM’s New Chinatown Branch Library Opens to the public in Chicago

Prior to engaging the design team, the PBC hosted a visioning session for a committee of community stakeholders, librarians, and other stakeholders to envision the goals of the Chinatown branch. As the former Chinatown library was one of the most visited of the 80 locations that make up the CPL system, it was of utmost importance that the community contribute to the design visioning process. The results of the visioning session communicated that today’s urban branch library is not a place solely visited for the purpose of accessing encyclopedic knowledge. Instead, it acts as a community anchor where citizens can connect with global resources and ideas.

SOM’s New Chinatown Branch Library Opens to the public in Chicago

The branch’s site-specific design solidifies this role. The building sits at the key intersection of South Archer Avenue and South Wentworth Avenue—the nexus of Chicago’s historic southern and emerging northern Chinatown neighborhoods— and is adjacent to the Cermak-Chinatown CTA Red Line train stop. The soft curves of the pebble shaped, three-sided structure respond to ancient Feng Shui principles by matching the avenues’ existing alignment without creating sharp, aggressive corners. This form allows a fluid movement of pedestrians, abundant landscaping throughout the site, and opens up view corridors so that the building can be seen on all sides. 

SOM’s New Chinatown Branch Library Opens to the public in Chicago

The interior of the building includes the two-story library maximizes CPL required program areas while minimizing the total area. Highly efficient, it is designed for both present and future flexibility. The design team worked closely with CPL officials to identify opportunities for programmatic overlap, thereby increasing the long-term utility. Like a traditional Chinese courtyard plan, all spaces connect to the central atrium room, providing clear orientation and spatial cohesion. 

SOM’s New Chinatown Branch Library Opens to the public in Chicago

Throughout the library, a spatially interconnected sequence allows for a sense of discovery and exploration. There are very few enclosed spaces to ensure maximum flexibility—the open plan can accommodate multiple uses and furniture or fixture arrangements over time. The children’s zone, exhibition space, central circulation hall, and a community meeting area occupy the ground level.

SOM’s New Chinatown Branch Library Opens to the public in Chicago

Low shelving arcing through the children’s zone creates interactive and fun spaces for toddlers and caretakers. The placement of the community space allows it to be a flexible, multipurpose room at the center of the library, capable of being used for lectures, tutoring, quiet reading, lounge space, and special events. Acoustical curtains can divide the room into smaller areas, and it has a double-door pantry that supports tea service. Because it is walled in glass, the community area is fully visible to the street, allowing library patrons to see out and outside passersby to see inside as day-to-day activities take place. 

SOM’s New Chinatown Branch Library Opens to the public in Chicago

A double-height hall and grand stair link the ground level to teen YOUmedia 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 YOUmedia zone. The spaces also include a multi-media storytelling area and are furnished with elementary school and teen homework and gaming tables.

SOM’s New Chinatown Branch Library Opens to the public in Chicago

An 8-feet-high x 60-feet-long mixed-media mural titled, Universal Transverse Immigration Proclamation, by CJ Hungerman, was painted on the second level wall as part of Chicago’s public art program. The artist engaged the community in workshops to understand the history of Chinatown and generations of personal experiences, and then distilled these memories and observations into the content of the work, capturing Chinatown’s personality via marker and paint. 

SOM’s New Chinatown Branch Library Opens to the public in Chicago

The building will serve as a critical piece of architecture within the Chinatown neighborhood. “The Chinatown Branch recognizes the critical role that the library plays in uniting the Chinatown community. It creates a key community anchor and an enduring cultural asset that will serve community members of all ages and accommodate diverse activities,” says Brian Lee FAIA, SOM Design Partner. “We hope the building creates a memorable architectural statement that embodies 21st century Chinatown. We are incredibly proud of its design and its position as a library of the future in Chicago’s urban fabric.” 

SOM’s New Chinatown Branch Library Opens to the public in Chicago

SOM’s New Chinatown Branch Library Opens to the public in Chicago

SOM’s New Chinatown Branch Library Opens to the public in Chicago

SOM’s New Chinatown Branch Library Opens to the public in Chicago

SOM’s New Chinatown Branch Library Opens to the public in Chicago

diagram-1

SOM’s New Chinatown Branch Library Opens to the public in Chicago

library exploded drawing

SOM’s New Chinatown Branch Library Opens to the public in Chicago

library plans exploded view

> via SOM