Independence Library and Apartments

Architect: John Ronan Architects

Owner: Evergreen Real Estate Group

Location: Chicago, IL

Representing a new hybrid building technology, this project couples a 16,000-square-foot library with 44 units of affordable apartments for seniors above. The project sits in Chicago’s diverse, mixed-income Irving Park neighborhood, which had been without a library since 2015 after a fire shuttered the previous Independence Branch.

Along North Elston Avenue, the team pushed the two-story library element of the building forward, accentuating its public nature. The four-story residential block, hovering above, sits further back. The library is wrapped in a façade of ground and polished precast concrete that contrasts with the bright colors that frame the balconies of the units above. This scheme allows residents to easily identify their homes from the street and was a conscious effort to combat the brutal pragmatism of a number of the city’s past design efforts in the neighborhood.

Inside, the library provides learning opportunities for all ages and boasts a large multipurpose room that easily accommodates lectures and community gatherings. Its second floor juts out over covered parking to create a park-like terrace for residents and an outdoor space for occasional library use.  The children’s area features a mural painted by a local street artist that depicts some of the city’s most celebrated authors.

To provide public access the library as soon as possible, the team’s designs allowed the library to open five months before the residential element was completed. The library’s floors are reinforced concrete, while the residential structure is steel braced frame, which allowed construction to occur simultaneously above and below. Other time-saving measures include the library’s precast façade, which was erected in just one day, and the exterior envelope’s insulated aluminum backer panel cladding that allowed work to continue through Chicago’s harsh winters.

"Wonderful mix of materials....Concrete structure uses materials (cement, stone aggregate, sand, water) local to the site." Jury comment

Certified LEED Gold, the project was born from a design competition with ambitious goals for maximizing usable space, delivering a high-quality indoor environment, and exceeding energy code performance. It is one of the first projects to move through the ComEd Energy Efficiency Program’s Multifamily Standard. The project was driven by community engagement, specifically a committee of representatives from key stakeholders and community groups. The team met regularly with the committee, surveyed additional stakeholders, and conducted public meetings to solicit additional feedback.

Additional information

General Contractor: Leopardo Companies

Engineer - Structural:  Thornton Tomasetti

Engineer - MEPFP:  dbHMS

Engineer - Civil:  Terra Engineering

Landscape: Terra Engineering

Acoustics: Shiner Acoustics


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

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James Florio

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James Florio

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James Florio

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James Florio

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James Florio