The new West Loop Library is the first-ever Chicago Public Library branch in the community and the 81st for the city. Donated to the City of Chicago by Sterling Bay as part of the ongoing development and transformation of the West Loop, the two-story adaptive reuse project preserves the industrial character of two buildings that were formerly part of the Harpo Studios campus, while creating a new cultural and social center for the neighborhood.
Formed of two existing conjoined buildings, the library features a weathered steel exterior, which develops a protective rust-like patina over time, to unify the facade and guide visitors through the steel-framed entrance. The renovated interior exposes the previously concealed original bow-truss ceilings and skylights to create a light-filled, loft-like space that reflects the West Loop’s factory-warehouse style. Non-structural walls that divided former TV studios and office spaces were removed throughout the 16,500-square-foot space, while new openings were created in the common wall of the conjoined buildings to create a unified interior. Low-level mahogany-topped bookshelves and blackened steel elements are featured throughout to establish a sense of visual continuity and create intimate reading, study, play, and staff spaces.
A series of architectural and graphic interventions throughout the building announces various programmatic areas, including all-ages reading spaces, flexible community and meeting rooms on the second floor, and a YOUmedia teen digital learning space with a recording studio. A “Tinkering Lab” provides a digital space for younger children, who are also served by several early learning spaces. These include existing alcoves transformed into storytelling rooms, featuring interactive play elements and walls with magnetic and writeable surfaces for enhanced learning. Throughout the library, wall graphics featuring sound waves woven with excerpts from books selected by librarians allude to the power of words and stories.
In addition to providing a new library and community center, the West Loop Library joins other city branches in providing free after-school tutoring and learning assistance within a high-quality, modern environment.