All three of Chicago’s innovate public library and affordable housing projects are open in Irving Park, Little Italy, and West Ridge. Each were designed by three separate local architecture firms that challenged notions of what public housing historically looks, and feels like. Here’s a closer look at John Ronan Architect’s colorful, modern design for the Independence Library and Apartments.
These projects were commissioned during the Emanuel administration with the goal of energizing neighborhoods. Each firm attempted to raise standards for affordable housing, which isn’t commonly design-forward or amenity-rich.
“Chicago is breaking the mold,” then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at the time. “Bringing together world-class libraries together with housing builds strong neighborhoods and provides a place for all community residents to gather, share and succeed.”
Ronan’s firm designed the project at 4024 N. Elston Avenue which replaced a former Irving Park library that was lost after a fire in 2015. The new two-story, 16,000-square-foot library has an open floor plan with graduated staircase seating, a children’s area, and flexible community rooms.
The 44 apartments have their own brightly colored balconies and residents share a large garden that covers the parking lot. There are a total of 44 units for seniors, 30 residences reserved for Chicago Housing Authority, and 14 apartments for low-income individuals.
Each balcony is a different color, like confetti spread across the building’s exterior. The firm said the design “speaks to individuality amidst the collective, enabling residents to identify their house from the street in a conscious attempt to transcend the brutal pragmatism which has characterized Chicago’s past efforts.”
The other two projects—the Little Italy library and apartments by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and the Northtown library and apartments by Perkins+Will—opened in 2019 as well.