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Three prominent Chicago architects selected for combined public housing/library projects

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John Ronan Architects, SOM, and Perkins+Will will each design one of the multi-role buildings

City of Chicago

After announcing an ambitious plan to “co-locate” Chicago public library branches and public housing in new architecturally significant developments back in October, the City of Chicago has taken the wraps off of three such projects slated for West Ridge, Little Italy, and Irving Park. Three Chicago-based architecture firms were selected last week from a list of 32 firms that answered the city’s initial Request for Qualifications in late 2016.

According to a release from the Chicago Housing Authority, the architects will soon begin the engagement process with community members to come up with a finalized design for each building to ensure that it meet the needs of its respective community. Construction is targeted to start by the end of this year with completion anticipated in winter 2018.

Independence Branch

City of Chicago

↑ John Ronan Architects, the firm behind Chicago’s Poetry Foundation and the 600-foot office building rising at 151 N. Franklin was selected to design the Independence Branch at the intersection of Elston and Pulaski in Chicago’s Irving Park neighborhood. The rectangular design features 30 mixed-income apartments in a stepped-back upper mass apparently clad in corrugated metal and colorful insert balconies. Below, the library portion faces the street with an airy wall of glass.

Roosevelt Branch

City of Chicago

↑ Part of the CHA’s ongoing redevelopment of the Roosevelt Square community on Chicago’s Near West Side, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) has designed a four-story combination mixed-income housing/library development near the intersection of Taylor and Ada streets. The building will feature 40 to 50 units, extensive rooftop green space, and wooden sun screens. SOM was also behind the elliptical, lamp-like Chinatown Branch Library.

Northtown Branch

City of Chicago

↑ Slated for the corner of Western Avenue and Pratt Boulevard in Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood, architecture firm Perkins+Will envisions a glassy single-story library topped by three floors of affordable senior housing. The Chicago firm will draw on its experience designing more than a dozen libraries in the United States and Canada. Other local P+W projects include the Simpson Querrey Biomedical Research Center under construction in Streeterville and the multi-phased Riverline project on its way to the South Loop.

While the Mayor’s call to break from the cookie-cutter designs common among most government buildings in favor of bold architecture is commendable, it left some wondering if it was wise for the cash-strapped city to pay a premium for top-shelf design talent. So far, city officials have not provided anything resembling a price estimate for the three projects but have vowed to “make the numbers work.”

Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin also recently questioned what he described as a potentially backwards public engagement process. By seemingly rushing to present finished, fully-polished architectural renderings before meeting with and listening to local stakeholders, could the city miscalculate the actual needs of each neighborhood?

These are good questions that will be answered in due time as the designs are further discussed and tweaked. For now, the news is only encouraging. Some of Chicago’s top firms are getting a chance to raise the architectural bar when it comes to public building design as well as revitalize communities through creative colocation.