Northtown Branch Library and Apartments

Architect: Perkins + Will

Location: Chicago, IL

By maximizing the potential for interaction between residents and patrons in this library and affordable housing project, the design team helped form new connections rather than separations in an emerging building typology. With a transparent lobby and multiple exterior plazas, this building has become a vital amenity for one of Chicago’s most diverse neighborhoods while illustrating the important role libraries play in learning, socialization, and access to technology.

"Combines affordable senior housing and was incorporated as a "connection" and not a separation." Jury comment

The overarching elements of the Northtown Library and the attached affordable housing for seniors are expressed in two distinct forms interwoven into a unified composition. The building strengthens the surrounding community by addressing the city’s critical need for affordable housing and the West Ridge neighborhood’s desire for a centrally located library. The team delivered a responsive facility that easily blends into the residential setting surrounding it.

At the street level, the library boasts a number of vibrant community spaces, such as a learning lab that encourages teenage visitors to explore new technologies as well as a community room and shared lobby. The lobby, which is also used by residents, features a colorful mural that celebrates West Ridge’s culture. The community room regularly hosts an artist-in-residence who further supports the neighborhood’s wide-ranging needs and encourages lifelong learning.

A garden cutout just beyond the central circulation area allows the building’s two distinct forms to share architectural elements. At the library level, it offers outdoor space for patrons while adding a splash of greenery to an otherwise busy urban street corner. The cutout’s roof serves as an outdoor deck for residents. Its curvilinear design easily accommodates wheelchairs and other mobility devices so that all can enjoy views of the park across the street. The apartments are oriented west to east to maximize daylight in the corridors and to create roof gardens that acknowledge both the nearby public park and quiet residential neighborhood.

"At 71% energy use reduction, the project exceeded its goal and meets the AIA’s 2030 Commitment." Jury comment

Targeting LEED Gold certification, the project is a combined Chicago Public Library and Chicago Housing Authority facility with ambitious goals. The design allows the project to function as an agent of social change, pairing opportunities for lifelong learning with a sustainable solution to the city’s housing shortage.

Additional information

Engineer - Civil: Terra

Engineer - MEP: dbHMS

Engineer - Structural: RME

General Contractor: Powers & Sons Construction

Landscape Architect: Terra


Jennifer Yoos, FAIA (Chair), VJAA, Minneapolis, MN

Ann Beha, FAIA, Ann Beha Architects,  Boston, MA

Erin Sterling Lewis, AIA, in situ studio, Raleigh, North Carolina

Kimberly Johnson, Tulsa City-County Library, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Clint S. Rudy, Suffolk Public Library, Suffolk, Virginia

Gail Scanlon, Philips Exeter Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire

Image credits

Northtown Branch Library and Apartments-03

James Steinkamp Photography

Northtown Branch Library and Apartments-04

James Steinkamp Photography

Northtown Branch Library and Apartments-05

James Steinkamp Photography

Northtown Branch Library and Apartments-06

James Steinkamp Photography

Northtown Branch Library and Apartments-07

James Steinkamp Photography