The new Northtown branch of the Chicago Public Library, a collaboration between Perkins+Will, the City of Chicago, the Chicago Public Library (CPL), the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), and Evergreen Real Estate Group, has been listed as a finalist in Fast Company’s 2019 World Changing Ideas Awards.
This novel approach, proposed by the Mayor, to the library as a community hub and to the city’s need for more accessible, affordable housing aims to revitalize this vibrant north side neighborhood and create new community bonds across generations. The project encourages life-long learning, collaboration, and exploration. The new branch library will offer programs and spaces not only for the senior citizens who live in the building, but also for the CHA and neighborhood families. The Northtown project also reflects the growing trend in design of “convergence,” a seamless blending of civic architecture, housing, and recreation in a single building to meet the diverse needs of Chicago residents. Not only does Northtown bring together community members of all ages, it also illustrates Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s vision of taking the world-class architecture Chicago is known for and bringing it to more neighborhoods around the city.
The four-story building features a contemporary, concrete and glass exterior with glazed aluminum finishes, and includes a 16,000-square-foot library branch and community space on the ground floor and 44 senior apartments above, including 30 for CHA residents and 14 affordably priced units. The library includes an early childhood active learning space. School-aged children will have access to the library’s Teacher in the Library program, which offers free one-on-one homework assistance. Teens will have access to technology, resources, and classes that inspire exploration, creativity and learning through the YOUmedia program.
The design is organized to preserve the separate identities of the library and housing, while encouraging interaction and connection. The ground floor provides a series of interconnected spaces. A two-story lobby at the corner of two major streets serves as an anchor and welcoming entry for the surrounding community. The library features public spaces at both ends – one showcasing teens and technology, the other (a community room and lobby) housing an artist-in-residence and available to the community after regular library hours. Circulation pathways provide the visual connections from the large open space utilizing the placement of library stacks and overhead lighting. The roof of the library is treated as a private open space for housing residents, and is sculpted in a two-story winding entry to reference the surrounding residential neighborhood to the west.
Northtown is one of three Chicago co-location projects under way that grew out of a citywide design competition.