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Type: Cultural, Education, Institutional, Library

Size: 58,700 sq ft / 5,450 sq m

Status: Completed 2011

Recognition: Chicago Building Congress New Construction Finalist; Architizer A+ Awards Libraries Finalist; AIA Chicago Chapter Award; Chicago Architecture Foundation Patron of the Year Award

The University of Chicago’s Joe and Rika Mansueto Library challenges the notion of what a library should be. Students, rather than bookstacks, occupy an open floor plan that is encased in a soaring elliptical glass dome, putting the pursuit of knowledge on display at an institution renowned for encouraging grand ambitions.

The site in the center of the University of Chicago campus is surrounded by a collection of significant buildings. With a mixture of styles ranging from the nearby Gothic quadrangle to the limestone brutalism of Walter Netsch’s adjacent Regenstein Library, the area offers a diverse architectural context. The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library required storage space for 3.5 million books with precise environmental control, as well as preservation offices and a reading room.

The program organization challenges the conventions of library design by placing the book storage below grade. Here, the environment can be better controlled to achieve constant temperature and humidity with decreased energy cost. A high-density automated shelving system allows efficient, safe storage of the library collection, while a robotic crane delivers materials to the ground level on demand. This inversion of the typical library layout also minimized the above-grade footprint of the building while creating a pleasant, unrestricted surface for the reading room and preservation department.

An automated book retrieval system was a requirement of the program to minimize the waiting time for research books and manuscripts to minutes in lieu of the days normally needed for off-site storage common to many university research libraries.

A simple and minimal glass bridge provides an elegant connection between the brutalist Regenstein Library without sacrificing the minimal glass dome of the new library.

With the books kept safely below grade, the people-oriented spaces occupy an elliptical glass dome that rests gently upon the site. The space is constructed of minimal visible elements. A net of slender metal components supports the arc of glazing, while the ground surface is defined by light wood finishes. Fritted glazing protects the interior from excess solar gain while maintaining the ultimate transparency of the space. The result is an inspiring, luminous space for academic engagement day and night.

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