Independence Library and Apartments

Architect: John Ronan Architects

Owner: David Block

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Category:  Multifamily Housing

Representing an emerging hybrid building typology, 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 units' balconies above. This scheme allows residents to identify their homes from the street easily and was a conscious effort to combat the brutal pragmatism found in many of the city's past design efforts in the neighborhood. The color coding continues on the individual doorways inside, animating the hallways and helping seniors quickly locate their apartments.

"This project checks all the boxes while providing a moment of delight in a dense urban context," wrote the jury. "An instant landmark, the jury was intrigued by how the corrugated shape and textures combine in an integrated shell. The thoughtful use of color-coding also aligns with best practices of senior environments by designing for decreased eyesight."

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. On the ground floor, the children's area features a mural painted by a local street artist that depicts some of the city's most celebrated authors.

"An instant landmark, the jury was intrigued by how the corrugated shape and textures combine in an integrated shell. The thoughtful use of color-coding also aligns with best practices of senior environments by designing for decreased eyesight."- Jury comment

To allow the public to access the library as soon as possible, the team designed it to open five months before the residential element was completed. The library's floors comprise reinforced concrete, while the residential structure is steel braced-frame, which allowed construction to be performed simultaneously above and below. Other time-saving measures include the library's precast façade, 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.

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 Multi-Family 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: John Ronan  Architects/Terra

Engineering Acoustics: Shiner Acoustics

Lighting:  dbHMS

LEED:  dbHMS

Jury

Ceara O’Leary, AIA (Chair), Detroit Collaborative Design Center, Detroit, MI

Allison Anderson, FAIA, unabridged Architecture, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Kelly Beamon, METROPOLIS, New York, NY

Alex Salazar, AIA, Salazar Architect, Portland, Oregon

Roberta Washington, FAIA, Roberta Washington Architects, New York, NY

Image credits

Street view looking west.

James Florio

library interior from second floor

James Florio

view into library from second floor garden.

James Florio

every unit has a balcony.

James Florio

typical unit interior looking toward balcony.

James Florio