In true fashion, which is to say quietly, the library has been one of the great inheritors of modernism. Many libraries built through the 1950s had the misfortune of being dark and cramped—great for storing books, but not so much for enjoying the space. With the Internet making traditional library resources (i.e. actual printed literature) less sought after, libraries have become valued as community meeting spaces with computer access. We take the plentiful natural light and open floor plans of recent buildings for granted, not appreciating how modern architecture helps ensure the library doesn’t become a thing of the past.
The new Richard M. Daley branch library that opened about three weeks ago in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood is the opposite of an old forbidding library. In a New York Times article, Chicago writer James Warren muses, “This one is as inviting as the long-shuttered firehouse across the street is forbidding. It signals to those on the street, ‘This is your space.’” The Daley branch is in part designed by Mies’ grandson and prominent architect in his own right Dirk Lohan. Libraries have had something of a renaissance in Chicago during Daley’s time, and he was responsible for 59 new ones during his 22-year reign.
The new Daley library calls to mind the Paul V. Galvin Library on IIT’s campus—not designed by Mies, but rather by his successor Walter Netsch (who worked for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill). Galvin Library gets a lot of flak for its design, as Netsch placed steel beams on the roof, presumably in tribute to Mies’ masterpiece, S.R. Crown Hall. However, unlike Crown Hall’s beams, Galvin’s provide no structural support, and only add unsightly weight to the building.
Design flaws aside, Galvin’s interior is an incredibly inviting space, with plenty of seating and floor-to-ceiling windows. Recently-added amenities include “Fatboys,” which are enormous bean bags popular with sleep-deprived students (who use the space 24/5). It’s not the prettiest building on campus, but it’s definitely one of the most-used, which is the ultimate mark of success for a library.› Read more