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New Independence Library Designer Chosen, Was Finalist For Obama Library

By Patty Wetli | March 21, 2017 5:27am
 John Ronan Architects has been announced as the designer of the new Independence Branch Library.
Independence Library Architect Chosen 3.20.2017
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IRVING PARK — Upstart firm John Ronan Architects, which narrowly missed out on the coveted Obama Library commission, has been tapped to design another high profile project: the first ever permanent home for the nearly 130-year-old Independence Branch Library.

John Ronan was chosen from a group of three semi-finalists.

The Independence branch is one of three new mixed-use library and housing developments slated to be built in the city as part of a unique collaboration between the Chicago Public Library and CHA.

The library, which will replace the Hollerbach Funeral Home at 4022 N. Elston Ave., will occupy the ground floor of the complex, with housing above.

Independence Library supporters have long lobbied for roomier, modern digs, arguing that patrons' usage far outpaced the capacity of the branch's rented storefront on Irving Park Road. Those cries intensified when the library suffered smoke damage in a fire that destroyed an adjacent building in fall 2015.

Construction on the new library is expected to begin by the end of this year, with completion targeted for winter 2018.

A community meeting will be held to obtain feedback on the building's final design, according to city officials. The timing of the forum has yet to be announced.

According to the firm's mission, John Ronan Architects brings a "concern for issues of sustainability and building performance" to its projects.

Further, the firm's designers "explore and test a wide range of ideas in order to find the response that feels intuitively correct for each situation, based on its unique site, program and context."

John Ronan Architects was the only Chicago-based finalist in the running to design the Obama Library, a project that was ultimately awarded to New Yorkers Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

Yet the relatively young firm, founded in 1999, has already left its mark on Chicago with the Poetry Foundation building, 61 W. Superior St., which opened in 2011.

In his review of the building, Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin wrote: "This is a mature work of architecture, one that, like fine poetry, is about subtle, slowly unfolding pleasures, not facile one-liners. It is, by turns, mysterious, engaging, richly layered and revealing."

John Ronan also designed the Gary Comer Youth Center, practice home of the South Shore Drill Team, and was selected to design the Illinois Institute of Technology's first new academic building since the 1970s, an innovation and tech entrepreneurship institute.