Serving as a new civic, educational, and social hub for Chicago’s vibrant Chinatown neighborhood, the 16,000-square-foot Chicago Public Library, Chinatown Branch, provides a much-needed public gathering place geared toward inclusive community activities and technology-based learning. Its design balances elegant aesthetics, pragmatic programming, and green design solutions.
The Chinatown Branch Library—adjacent to the Cermak-Chinatown CTA Red Line train stop—sits at the intersection of South Archer Avenue and South Wentworth Avenue. A neighborhood connector and cultural nexus in the community, the branch unites historic Chinatown to the south with the newer areas of Chinatown to the north. The building’s south-facing entrance, softened triangular shape, and gentle interior circulation reference Feng Shui design principles, with the aim to resonate with the values held by the community. The children’s zone and community meeting area are placed at the ground level, while teen and adult zones are situated on the second level. Similar to a traditional Chinese courtyard plan, all spaces connect to the central atrium, providing clear orientation and spatial cohesion.
Integral to the building’s design, sustainability features include radiant cooling and heating, in-ground thermal storage tanks, a green roof and in-ground storm water retention system, and natural daylighting technologies. A solar shading screen integrated into the building’s glass curtain wall reduces heat gain without compromising views out to the neighborhood, resulting in a building that consumes 30% less energy than a typical library while providing 70% vision glazing.
Delivered on time and within the mandated budget, the Chinatown Branch Library cost only five percent more than comparable prototype libraries while providing a highly sustainable, bespoke, and context-specific design. The building serves as an invaluable piece of architecture that meets the diverse needs of the community while enhancing the neighborhood’s collective vibrancy.
Credits: - Wight & Company - Sr. Vice President, Managing Director, Design-Build Principal - James Mark - Chicago Public Library - Commissioner & CEO - Brian Bannon - Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP - Design Partner - Brian Lee - Public Building Commission of Chicago - Director of Design - Art Del Muro