Late Entry to the Chicago Public Library Competition
Project by Design With Company
This Late Entry to the Chicago Public Library Competition uses the parameters of the 1987 architectural competition as a framework to reexamine issues at stake not only in the original design prompt, but also: the choice of the winning scheme, the use of history in the design of architecture, and contemporary ideas surrounding libraries and the city. The Late Entry format borrows from Claes Oldenburg’s Late Entry to the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition as well as Stanley Tigerman’s exhibition of the same name from 1980. With this reboot, we are drawing a connection between the Tribune Tower and the Public Library competitions, each of which have been instrumental in shaping attitudes toward architecture in Chicago. Both competitions resulted in buildings that self-consciously deploy historical forms and ornament to communicate with the public.
Certain architects and writers have been critical of these outcomes, with Stanley Tigerman quoted as saying, “By selecting that scheme [the winning design for the Chicago Public Library], it sends Chicago backwards, away from its own future precisely the way the Tribune Competition and the Columbian Exposition did.”  This project contends explicitly with Tigerman’s, not necessarily to correct or solve the problem, but to revisit the polemic in a revealing and contemporary way. It presents two dozen late entries in the form of a single building. The result is a building that behaves like a city, playing on scale, legibility, and narrative.
1. Triumphal Arch
In the information age, the physicality of the library is no longer necessary for book storage. In its place, the building can be liberated as a pure civic monument. Triumphal Arch casts the existing library building and flips it inside out. What was solid is now void as a monumental absence in the city of Chicago.
2. Empty Frame
Stripping the library from all its adornment, we are left with an empty frame. Is it a frame for a new building or one awaiting demolition? A ghost or an infant? Is it Miesian at heart (or would it be in skeleton)?
3. Child’s Play
“Cartoon Classicism,” people have declared about the Beeby design. Children’s blocks can be a tool for play and profound invention. What’s wrong with a good cartoon plopped into our realistic city? It might brighten our day with some surreal juxtapositions.
4. An Arch of Any Other Name
The library draws reference from certain buildings like the Biblioteque St. Genevieve and the Art Institute of Chicago. This proposal uses the same diagram as the Hammond Beeby and Babka design but substitutes other historical arches like the Sullivan Transportation Building, etc.
5. Unopened Proposal
This proposal has sat, unopened in its crate, for twenty-eight years. What is inside there? How disappointing it was never considered. How intriguing. Why wasn’t it opened?
6. Escalating the Library
From the project brief: “There should be open sided escalators to all public floors. This will allow patron “shopping” of the collections from the escalators, similar in function to a Department Store escalator…”
7. Navy Pier’s Ferris Wheel
Navy Pier is getting a new Wheel, we propose to use the old one for the library. Read while tracing a circle in the sky. Up and down, back to where you began. What could be a better metaphor for a library than a ferris wheel?
8. Blow it up
How much does your building weigh Mr. Beeby? There was a certain amount of initial argumentation about the “meaning” of the balloon, this subsided, because we have learned not to insist on meanings, and they are rarely even looked for now, except in cases involving the simplest, safest phenomena.
9. Hoo Who?
Owls represent wisdom and knowledge. They sit perched atop the Harold Washington Library watching over the city. The owls are the most distinctive part of the building, so we’re proposing to make the entire thing from a parliament of owls.
10. Aircraft Carrier
Why keep books in a building downtown? Real estate is too valuable to devote so much space to the storage of books. We propose building a small airport for book delivery on top of a building. See Hans Hollein.
11. Parking Garage for Bookmobiles
Why does the city need a static library at all? While awaiting construction, the books were stored in a warehouse outside the city. The books could always be moving. Never settled, always moving.
Parks were the most publicly requested design feature during the Chicago Public Library competition. This multilayer park multiplies the ground plane to achieve a layer cake of outdoor programs. Maybe it isn’t the best design for a library, but it’s definitely a great place to read.
Rather than consuming trees, we could grow them. Paper books are relics of the past, texts are read digitally. What would be better than reading in a forest in the middle of downtown Chicago?
The roof is the best part of the Harold Washington Library. However, it is only visible from far away. Pedestrians are greeted by a massive fortress at ground level. Why not put the best part on the ground so the public can see and use it?
15. Library Scrolls
Literally read the library. Container and contained collapse into a single object. Texts, both physical and ephemeral, merge into a conglomerate of legibility. Chicagoans begin eating lunch nearby to catch today’s story. Writers develop new material just for this site. A new genre of literature develops.
16. Buttons and Tufts
Adorning the top of the Harold Washington Library are a series of large-scale buttons that appear to be holding down the roof. What if the entire library looked like a tufted piece of furniture that makes use of these buttons?
17. Jahn the Beeby
Helmut Jahn’s proposal for the Chicago Public Library Competition featured an elevated building spanning the ‘L’ train tracks. Underneath was a public space with large objects housing various programs. Can this design strategy be applied to the current library?
18. The Titanic
This is a challenge to architects. Either bury history as a source of legitimation, or be doomed to repeat it.
19. Prentice’s Ghost
In 2014, Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital building was torn down at the hands of Northwestern University. It was a controversial situation. Even Frank Gehry wrote a letter to try and save it. Why not bring it back as a library?
20. Trimmed Out
One issue that confuses people about the existing design is how out of scale it is with the rest of the city and with the pedestrians on the street. Trimmed out takes elements that are typically associated with interiors, scales them up, and turns it inside out.
21. Mining the Cultural Center
The building that is now known as the Cultural Center was once the home of the Chicago Public Library. Why not mine it for parts? They can be paraded through the city, to be reconstructed on the site of the new library. Of course, it is smaller than the new one, so we would have to supplement it a little…
The public was up in arms when the TRUMP sign was installed along the Chicago River. The library could feed off the controversy to establish relevance again. The city can offer naming rights in the tradition of sports stadiums. Sell the parking meters, sell the library name…
23. Ancient History
The Beeby library design references historical buildings by looking like them. Why stop with a new building that looks like old ones? Why not make it a ruin? Everybody loves a good ruin, especially the picturesque kind.
A bag over its head? A shroud? Will there be an unveiling? Is it dead? New or old, it is up to you.
“Design Wars,” Season 17, Episode 3 of NOVA, PBS, October 17, 1989.
Design With Company
Stewart Hicks, Allison Newmeyer, Claire Gaspin, France La, Obed Lopez, Andrew Newmeyer, and Jeisler Salunga.
Design With Company (Dw/Co) is the Chicago-based architectural collaborative of Stewart Hicks and Allison Newmeyer. Dw/Co seeks to transform the world through textual and visual narratives, speculative urban scenarios, installations, and small-scale interactive constructions. Hicks is currently an assistant professor of architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Newmeyer is a visiting assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and also teaches at the University of Wisconsin‚ Milwaukee, and the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago. Both of them are fellows of the MacDowell Artist Colony and recipients of Architectural Record‘s Design Vanguard Award and the Young Architect’s Forum Prize.
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