Office News

Perkins+Will Breaks Ground on Innovative Chicago Project Combining Housing, Library

Building on City’s North side among first in the country, expected to open in 2018

The Chicago office of global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will broke ground today on a new combined community library and affordable housing building on the City’s North side. This project is a high priority initiative of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and will be among the first of its kind in the country. The project for the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), Chicago Public Library (CPL), and Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD) is expected to open in December 2018, and will include 44 one-bedroom senior housing apartments on three floors atop the new 16,000-square-foot Northtown Branch of the Chicago Public Library. The new library will offer programs and spaces for area children and families as well as the new housing residents.

The groundbreaking follows extensive engagement with Alderman Silverstein and community residents, The Chicago Housing Authority, the Department of Planning and Development and the project developer, Evergreen Real Estate Services, LLC, to help shape the final design.

"Our design for a public library-housing building maximizes the potential of the interaction between public and private uses,” says Ralph Johnson, Global Design Director for Perkins+Will. “The housing and library are enriched by each other’s presence, and the dialogue between community and privacy are inherent in the design to create a dynamic and urban, mixed-use building.”

The new Northtown Branch of the Chicago Public Library represents a new urban typology, co-locating affordable senior housing with a community library to encourage life-long learning, collaboration, and exploration. The buildings are separated into two major programs joined in the middle with a community garden. The garden acts as a connector to an open air terrarium in the library, with the overall site designed to create a public plaza that people can experience from all sides. Modular housing units wind above the garden, enlivening the typical residential corridor and creating roof gardens that acknowledge the public park to the east and the quiet residential neighborhood to the west. Double-height glazed lobbies connect the library to the senior housing, inspiring community interaction between the inside and outside, and the public and private.

The library is anchored at both ends with vibrant community spaces – one showcasing teens and technology, and the other revealing a community room and lobby housing an artist-in-residence, available to the community after regular library hours. Creating one large open space for visual connection throughout also meant creating intuitive identities and zones for patrons. Shaping of the stacks and the lighting above helps create paths and destinations visible across the space, transforming the corner of Pratt and Western into a welcoming beacon for the diverse Northtown community.

Perkins+Will was selected for the project following a CHA, CPL, and DPD competition that evaluated designs on quality and context, sustainability, and landscaping and design innovation. The firm was recognized for its longstanding involvement in Chicago and experience with designing projects that draw on community involvement. The City cited such Perkins+Will projects as the award-winning William Jones College Preparatory High School in the South Loop and the Rush University Medical Center and Campus Transformation project on the West Side, plus more than a dozen libraries, some with mixed-uses, in the United States and Canada.

The facility is one of three City of Chicago co-location projects. The other two facilities are in the Irving Park community on the Northwest side and on the Near West Side. The public groundbreaking ceremony was attended by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Ald. Debra Silverstein of the 50th Ward, Chicago Public Library Commissioner Brian Bannon, and Chicago Housing Authority CEO Eugene Jones, Jr.