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Chicago Public Library West Loop Branch honored with AIA Illinois award

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The SOM-designed adaptive reuse project opened earlier this year

A long, rectangular library space beneath an arched wood timber ceiling. There are tables and chairs for reading the walls are lined with bookshelves.
The library incorporates the brick walls, bow-truss ceiling, and skylights of the older buildings.
Images courtesy of Tom Harris Photography

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.

A two story building with a brown metal exterior and square windows facing the street. A sign reads “Chicago Public Library West Loop Branch.”
The exterior makeover uses a warm-colored oxidized steel cladding for an industrial vibe.
A person sits on a bench next to an elevated front desk surrounded by warm colored brick. Bookshelves and seating are visible in the adjacent room.
Original brick walls were uncovered and incorporated into the design of the library.
A group of children sit around an adult reading a story in a corner room with globe lights, five windows, and low shelves lined with books.
An early childhood reading and education space.