“The Chinatown Branch of the Chicago Public Library” by S.M. O’Connor

The Chinatown Branch of the Chicago Public Library is in Armour Square (Ward #25).  Chinatown is a neighborhood of Armour Square.  The Chinatown Branch Library sits at the southwest corner of Archer Avenue and Wentworth Avenue.  It is one block north of the intersection of Cermak Road and Wentworth Avenue.  This intersection of Archer and Wentworth is at the junction of Chinatown’s two neighborhoods.  Historically, Chinatown consisted of a single neighborhood, but it is now comprised of two neighborhoods.  The original neighborhood has become the southern neighborhood of Chinatown and the new neighborhood is its north neighborhood.  The Chinatown Branch Library serves two of Chicago’s seventy-seven community areas: Armour Square (Community Area #34) and Bridgeport (Community Area #60) on the South Side of Chicago.  It also served the South Loop neighborhood of the Near South Side (Community Area #33) at the southern end of the Chicago Loop in downtown Chicago.  The address is 2100 South Wentworth Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60616.  This is the third iteration of the Chinatown Branch Library.  The first iteration was a storefront library that opened on Wentworth Avenue in 1972.  Eighteen years later, the second iteration, an 11,000-square-foot rental facility opened on September 28, 1990.

The Public Building Commission of Chicago (P.B.C.) oversaw the design and construction of the new Chinatown Branch Library on behalf of the Chicago Public Library (C.P.L.). This was a design/build project led by Wight & CompanySkidmore Owings & Merrill (S.O.M.) served as the design lead.  The design was inspired by Feng Shui.  The new Chinatown Branch Library received recognition from the American Institute of Architects (A.I.A.) and the American Library Association (A.L.A.).  The 16,000-square-foot purpose-built library opened at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, August 29, 2015.

The façade featured a glass curtain wall and vertical fins.  The P.B.C. stated in a 2016 press release, “The exterior vertical shading fins provide shade to a glass façade, controlling solar gain and glare while linking passerby to actively inside and library patrons to the surrounding cityscape.  Much like a traditional Chinese courtyard plan, all spaces connect to a central atrium, minimizing the building’s total footprint.”  Later in the same 2016 press release, the P.B.C. stated, “The library is on track to achieve LEED Gold certification.”

The Chinatown Branch Library has consistently been the busiest branch in the Chicago Public Library system.  It is across the street (Wentworth Avenue) to the Cermak-Chinatown Stop on the Red Line of the Chicago Transit Authority (C.T.A.).  The Chinatown Branch Library is one block due north of the famous Chinatown Gate on Cermak Road and two-and-a-half blocks due south of the Leonard M. Louie Fieldhouse in the Chicago Park District’s Ping Tom Park (East).  It is three blocks northeast of the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago.  Also, it is several blocks southwest of The Battle of Fort Dearborn Park, the Glessner House Museum, and the City of Chicago’s Clarke House Museum, which are clustered at the curve where 18th Street turns into Calumet Avenue. [That area is the Prairie Avenue Historic District, which was home to the city’s wealthiest residents at the end of the 19th Century and start of the 20th Century.  Marshall Field’s Mansion lies between Prairie Parkway/Prairie Avenue and Calumet Parkway.  The Prairie Avenue Historic District is in the Near South Side Community Area.]  The Chinatown Branch Library is about eight blocks due west of the enormous McCormick Place – North Building and nine blocks west of the McCormick Place – Lakeside Center.

The Chinatown Branch Library has a mural by C.J. Hungerman, Universal Transverse Immigration Proclamation.  It has a green roof; permeable pavers; energy-efficient radiant heating and cooling ventilation systems; an in-ground storm-water retention system; durable materials; and Wi-Fi.  The landscaping is comprised of low-maintenance and irrigated native and adaptive plants.  The central atrium dominates the interior.  On the ground level are the lobby, exhibit space, flexible meeting spaces, the Children Zone, state-of-the-art technology for public use, washrooms, the Circulation Desk, staff workroom, and the branch manager’s office.  On the second floor are YOUmedia, the Teen area, the Adult area, Periodicals and Reference, more public computers, study rooms, more community rooms, and more washrooms.

High school students can develop new skills and check out books in Chinatown YOUmedia.  It is open from 3:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays and from 3:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Hours vary on Fridays and Saturdays.

Something I find interesting about the Chinatown Branch Library is that while it belongs to the City of Chicago, meaning Chicago not as a place but as a corporate entity, it does not belong to the Chicago Public Library.  In 2015 and 2016 press releases, the P.B.C. stated, “The City of Chicago’s Department of Fleet and Facility Management owns and operates the building for the Chicago Public Library.”

On December 8, 2015, the P.B.C. announced that the Illinois Chapter of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (A.S.H.R.A.E.) had conferred the Excellence in Engineering Award on the Chinatown Branch Library.  The P.B.C. stated this award came in recognition of “the innovation, energy efficiency and cost effectiveness of this unique building’s mechanical systems.”

      The mechanical systems were designed by dbHMS, a minority-owned business enterprise based in Chicago that provides a full range of services including mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection, lighting and information technology design.  The firm served as a subcontractor to the Design/Build team of Wight & Co. and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill which designed and built the new library at Archer and Wentworth Avenues in the Chinatown community.

“We are pleased to announce this award and the recognition it brings to the work that our partners do to develop innovative and environmentally sustainable projects,” stated Felicia D. Davis, Executive Director of the P.B.C.  “Together with our clients, we strive to develop energy efficient buildings that are not only comfortable for the people who use them, but are cost-effective to operate over the lifetime of the facility.”

“Not only does the Chinatown Branch Library bring a world-class, community-specific design to this neighborhood, it operates in a cost-effective way,” stated Chicago Public Library Commissioner Brian Bannon.  “We are proud of the recognition and our partners the PBC for helping is bring the community a 21st century library in an innovative way.”

The Urban Land Institute (U. L.I.) Chicago bestowed the Chinatown Branch Library the 2016 CBC Merit Award for new construction projects under $55,000,000 as well as the 2016 Vision Award for Public Investment on the Chinatown Branch Library.  U.L.I. recognized the project for establishing a high standard of excellence in several areas – design, construction, economics, marketing, and management.

“The PBC is committed to developing municipal buildings that reflect the highest standards of environmental and economic sustainability,” stated P.B.C. Executive Director Felecia S. Davis.  “Together, with our clients at the Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center, along with our design and construction partners we were able to develop buildings that not only enrich the physical landscape of our city, but enhance the social landscape of our communities.

“Having multiple projects recognized in the same year highlights the great work made possible through close collaboration with our many partners,” Ms. Davis added.  She was referring to the fact that two other P.B.C. construction projects had garnered awards in the same period.  The Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center Addition won the 2016 Chicago Building Congress (C.B.C.)/Construction Owners Association of America (COAA) Owner’s Choice Award at the 60th Annual Merit Awards Night on May 25, 2016.  The Chicago Association of Realtors also bestowed the 2016 Good Neighbor Award on the Albany Park Branch of the Chicago Public Library.

“We have a state-of-the-art building in a Chicago neighborhood while delivering a community-specific experience to library patrons,” stated Library Commissioner Bannon, “and we are thrilled that the innovative design and construction is being recognized.”

The Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin stated, “Clearly, libraries are changing, both formally and functionally.  In this one, [the architects] had used common, off-the-shelf materials to achieve uncommon results.  The Chinatown branch possesses some of the grandeur of great old libraries, but none of their stodginess.”

Later in the year, on December 20, 2016, the Construction Industry Service Corporation (C.I.S.C.O.) awarded the Chinatown Branch Library was awarded the Project of the Year in the category of New Construction – Chicago or Suburbs (below $20,000,000) as part of the annual Pride in Construction Award Program.  C.I.S.C.O. is a non-profit labor-management association.  Each year, C.I.S.C.O. holds an annual meeting the highlight of which is the Pride in Construction Awards.  The formal presentation to the winners in various construction categories was scheduled at C.I.S.C.O.’s annual meeting on Friday, January 27, 2017.

“We are pleased with the recognition that this award brings to the work that our partners do to create innovative design and environmentally sustainable projects, stated Ms. Davis.  “But more importantly, we are proud that we were able to create a public facility that now serves as a new civic, educational and social hub for Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood.”

“Representing magnificent design while championing environmental sustainability, this library operates in a cost-efficient way,” stated Mr. Bannon.  “We are proud of this recognition and our partners for helping us bring the community a 21st Century library in an innovative way.”

On January 12, 2018, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the Chicago Riverwalk and the Chinatown Branch Library had received the Institute Honor Awards from the American Institute of Architects (A.I.A.).  “Chicago is known across the globe for our countless contributions to the fields of architecture and design, and today Chicago is writing the next chapter in that remarkable legacy,” stated Mayor Emanuel.  “The Riverwalk and Chinatown Branch Library are architecturally significant, transformative projects that will be shared by generations of Chicagoans and visitors to our great city.  I want to congratulate Ross Barney Architects, Sasaki and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP for this prestigious and well-deserved recognition.”

The Chinatown Branch Community Room can accommodate up to seventy people.  It has fourteen tables and seventy chairs.  The room has both a screen and a sink.  One can apply to book the room up to three months before the event, but not less than seven days before the event.  The branch manager must approve the event.  An applicant will be notified whether or not his or her application has been approved within three days.

The Chinatown Branch Library is closed on Sundays.  It is open from 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.  The phone number of the Chinatown Branch Library is (773) 747-8013.


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