Beyond being popular gathering and study space for neighborhood residents and students, the West Loop’s first-ever Chicago Public Library branch recently earned a design award from the Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
Known as the Frank Lloyd Wright Award, the distinction honors the 16,500-square-foot project for its “achievement in enhancing the natural and built environment of a community.” The library, which opened at 118 N. Aberdeen Street in January 2019, spans two older buildings that once belonged to Oprah Winfrey’s former Harpo Studios television production campus.
Designed by the Chicago office of global architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the adaptive reuse project uncovered and restored a number of the buildings’ original features, including brick walls and bow-truss ceiling beams. The structures are unified behind a weathered steel exterior facade and entranceway.
Inside, the space blends a vintage industrial aesthetic with contemporary community amenities such as child and adult reading spaces, flexible study rooms, an early childhood play area, a recording studio, a digital lab with coding and design software, and after-school tutoring programs.
The West Loop property was donated to the city by prolific West Loop-based developer Sterling Bay. Additional funding came from a combination of private donations and the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund—a program that benefited greatly from the surrounding area’s unprecedented high-rise construction boom.
The SOM-designed library was also recognized with an AIA Chicago Design Excellence Award last month.