Chicago Public Library, West Loop Branch

Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Owner:  Chicago Public Library

Location: Chicago, IL

The first Chicago Public Library branch built in the burgeoning West Loop neighborhood, this two-story adaptive reuse project transformed former television studios into a new cultural and social center. The conjoined buildings were donated to Chicago by a generous developer to spur the redevelopment of the formerly industrial zone, and the project helps fill a critical resource gap.

The team was able to preserve the industrial character of the buildings, and its weathered steel exterior and rust-like patina unifies the facade and guides patrons through a steel-framed entrance. Inside, the renovated interior highlights the original bow-truss ceilings and skylights, lending a loft-like atmosphere that is typical of the neighborhood’s factory-warehouse style. Unnecessary walls were removed throughout, and new openings in the common wall of the buildings unify the interior.

Architectural interventions and bold graphic design elements—such as quotes from notable authors—identify the different programmatic areas, including all-ages reading spaces, community rooms, and a digital learning space that boasts a recording studio. A “tinkering lab” complements early learning spaces, while existing alcoves have become storytelling rooms full of interactive play elements and walls with writable surfaces.

In conjunction with existing industrial windows, the team uncovered hidden skylights to increase daylighting and add to the calming atmosphere of the main reading room. Existing offices from the buildings’ time as studios were repurposed as collaboration and activity spaces for all age groups.

As the 81st library branch for the city, the West Loop Branch provides programming for one of the city’s fastest-growing and family-centered neighborhoods. The branch has joined others in providing free tutoring and learning assistance after school, programs that are bolstered by the branch’s modern environment. Since it opened its doors in January 2019, the library has loaned nearly 14,000 books and welcomed just shy of 20,000 visitors. The library’s children’s story times have become so popular that additional sessions were included in its program schedule.

"Finally, a library that makes you want to go read a book. Top notch attention to detail, a children's area that does not resort to childish clichés, and a warmth from reuse of existing materials..." - Jury comment

Additional information

Interior Architect and Designer: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Graphic and Environmental Design: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

General Contractor: Blinderman Construction

Lighting Consultant: Gwen Grossman Lighting Design

Engineer - MEP: Air Design Systems


Consultant: Bader Arts Metals

Consultant: POHL & VEI

Security: PACE Systems


Zena Howard, FAIA (Chair), Perkins + Will, Charlotte, North Carolina

Benjamin de Rubertis, AIA, Flad Architects,  Seattle, Washington

Kelly Haigh, AIA, Design Lab Architect, Boston, Massachusetts

James Garrett, AIA, 4RM+ULA, St. Paul, Minnesota

Kelly Bauer, NCIDQ, FIIDA, White Baux Studio, Phoenix, Arizona

Image credits

Interior View of Main Reading Room

Tom Harris

Exterior View from Aberdeen Street

Tom Harris

Chicago Public Library- West Loop Branch-06

Tom Harris

Chicago Public Library- West Loop Branch-04

Tom Harris

Chicago Public Library- West Loop Branch-07

Tom Harris