Office News

Final Phase of Perkins+Will-Designed Public Library, Affordable Housing Project Opens in Chicago

Among first in country to combine affordable units with a public library branch

CHICAGO, May 16, 2019 –The City of Chicago, Chicago Housing Authority and Evergreen Real Estate Group, today opened the housing component of an innovative project that combines senior living and a Chicago Public Library branch. This community and residential amenity encourages life-long learning, collaboration, and exploration.

“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 four-story building, featuring a contemporary concrete and glass exterior with glazed aluminum finishes, is one of three co-location initiatives in Chicago and among only a few in the US. The Northtown project reflects the growing design trend of “convergence,” a seamless blending of civic architecture, housing, recreation, and other typologies in a single building to meet diverse needs.

Northtown includes a 16,000-square-foot library branch and community space on the ground floor and 44 affordable senior apartments on three floors above, including 30 receiving rental assistance from the Chicago Housing Authority.

CHA CEO Eugene E. Jones, Jr. said, “Our goal is to expand affordable housing opportunities across Chicago while also delivering community assets that can benefit all residents. With the opening of Northtown Apartments, we are providing a community anchor that combines new housing options and a library that will serve residents of all ages from West Ridge.”

Distinctive features of the residential units include:

• Robust views of the nearby park, creating a calming sense of place.
• Large windows for ample daylight, improving residents’ wellness and connection to the outdoors.
• A fitness center, meeting rooms, and outdoor terrace that provide easy onsite access for seniors.
• The bridging of generations in a multi-use facility.

The library includes an early childhood active learning space. School-aged children have access to the library’s Teacher in the Library program, which offers free one-on-one homework assistance. Teens can access technology, resources, and classes that inspire exploration, creativity and learning through the YOUmedia program. The building also features a shared community room and lobby housing an artist-in-residence, with a mural by local artist Chris Silva depicting the neighborhood’s landmarks.

“The design seeks to integrate from an architectural and social standpoint the diverse members of the community,” says Doug Smith, Perkins+Will Managing Principal. “I believe there’s more of a need for the private sector to be involved with the development and implementation for social infrastructure today.”

Notable design elements include:

• Library and housing that maintain distinct identities while following a unified design language.
• An open air terrarium at the heart of the library that infuses nature into this shared space.
• Intentional circulation pathways that maintain the visual flow of the large open space.
• Double-height glazed lobbies that connect the library to the senior housing, inspiring community interaction between the inside and outside.
• Modular housing units sculpted in a two-story winding entry, which rise above the central garden to enliven the typical residential corridor.
• The library roof serving as a private outdoor space for residents, with views out to the public park to the east and the quiet residential neighborhood to the west.

The project – a collaboration between the City, the Chicago Housing Authority, and the Chicago Public Library – has been a major initiative of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to bring world-class architecture into communities. Northtown is one of three Chicago co-location projects that grew out of a citywide design competition. The Northtown design was influenced through collaboration with Alderman Debra Silverstein and input from community residents, who also played a role in shaping the content of Silva’s mural in the lobby. The developer and building manager is Evergreen Real Estate Group.