Chicago Public Library, Chinatown Branch

Architect: Skidmore, Owings  & Merrill LLP; Wight & Co

Owner: Chicago  Public Library

Location: Chicago

This 16,000-square-foot library balances aesthetics with pragmatic programming. Providing much-needed educational and social space for Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood, its design resonates with the concepts of feng shui and the values of the community it serves.

The design team worked with library staff and closely examined programmatic overlap and the use of flexible spaces. By reducing the initial program by 4,000 square feet, the team was able to optimize costs and maximize long-term use. The elimination of excess circulation and single-function rooms sets up the library for continued digital evolution.

"The conscious approach for the building’s ideals for interior decisions are evident in the artistic expression of the history of the cultural identity of the community." ~ Jury statement

Wrapped in an ultra-transparent glass façade, the library’s sense of openness is reflected inside, where all spaces connect to a central hall softly lit by an overhead oculus. The double-height space provides clear orientation along a graceful winding path and functions as the library’s lounge, exhibition, and pre-function space.

Shelving in the colorful ground-floor children’s area references dragon tails, and low stacks peppered with appropriately sized cutouts and niches provide ample space for the library’s younger patrons. The child-centric area also boasts custom foam structures, properly scaled seating, and window benches that serve double duty as storage for books and toys.

Nearby, vibrant acoustic drapery demarcates a dedicated teen space called YOUmedia, where users can tap into the library’s technology and take part in programming designed for young adults. The adult reading room’s eye-height stacks create study nooks, while small glass collaboration rooms offer ultimate flexibility for the diverse needs of library patrons.

Offering a panoramic view of the city, the library’s light-filled second floor is defined by a 60-foot mural by local artist CJ Hungerman. Titled “Universal Transverse Immigration Proclamation,” the piece created through Chicago’s Percent for Art program with input from community members captures Chinatown’s personality abstractly and envisions the past, present, and future of the neighborhood.

"This is an exceptional project that responds to, and engages in a highly successful manner while being understated and fun."  ~ Jury statement

Additional information

Acoustics: Shen Milsom & Wilke, LLC

Code Consultants: John Lyle & Associates, Inc

Developer: Public Building Commission of Chicago

Engineer: dbHMS

Engineer – Civil: Terra Engineering, LTD

Engineer – Structural: Drucker Zajdel Structural Engineers, Inc.

Landscape Architect: Site Design Group


Brian Caldwell, AIA (Chair), THINKTANK Design Group, Bozeman, Montana

Joshua Aidlin, AIA, Aidlin Darling Design San Francisco

Kiyomi Kurooka, AIA, DWL Architects + Planners Inc., Phoenix

John Paquin, AIA, Statesville, North Carolina

William T. Ruhl, AIA, RUHL WALKER Architects, Boston

Image credits

Chicago Public Library - Chinatown Branch

Jon Miller | Hedrich Blessing

Chicago Public Library - Chinatown Branch

Jon Miller | Hedrich Blessing

Chicago Public Library - Chinatown Branch

Jon Miller | Hedrich Blessing

Chicago Public Library - Chinatown Branch

Jon Miller | Hedrich Blessing

Chicago Public Library - Chinatown Branch

Jon Miller | Hedrich Blessing