New Chinatown Library: A Feng Shui 'Neighborhood Hub'

By Casey Cora on May 20, 2014 8:24am | Updated on May 20, 2014 8:29am

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 Special design elements have been incorporated into the new $18 million library.
New Chinatown Library
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CHINATOWN — With its missing ceiling tiles, worn carpet and drab lighting, the current Chinatown library branch's community room provided the perfect backdrop for the unveiling of more features planned at a new facility.

"Basically all of what you have today will be in the new building but much bigger and better," library Commissioner Brian Bannon told residents who'd gathered at the library Monday. "This represents in our view the future of what libraries can be in our communities and Chicago."

At Monday's community meeting, Bannon and project designers outlined the amenities at the new building, a glassy 16,000 square-foot structure slated to open May 2015 in the 2100 block of South Wentworth Avenue.

The new library is expected to cost roughly $18 million, largely financed through tax increment financing, library leaders said.

The architects were guided by the principles of feng shui — an Asian philosophy used to orient the spaces within buildings and the building itself — and even sent the plans to a feng shui master "to understand the best aspects of the project," said Brian Lee, an architect with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP.

Hailed as a bridge between the "old and new Chinatown," the building will allow for better pedestrian flow between Wentworth Avenue businesses and the Chinatown Square development.

Inside, the book stacks will curve around to create reader alcoves that either face the building's "grand staircase" or the vast skyline views outside. A community room will be created within glass walls, symbolically situated on the street level, and a giant skylight will drape the building's interior in natural light.

The upstairs rooms will include the YOUMedia center, reference desk and periodical racks, study rooms and a specialized teen area with its own dedicated librarian. All will be visible from the first floor in an effort to "visually connect" the building, Lee said.

Outside, the eco-friendly building will feature outdoor reading and shade gardens, and the building will be wrapped in vertical beams that both minimize the sun's impact and recall the image of bamboo stalks.

At night, the interior glow will radiate outward and create a lantern effect.

"We thought this was appropriate for a place of light. ... It's something like a great beacon," Lee said.

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