Murphy/Jahn Designs Wing for Famed Chicago Library

November 12, 2008

By Violet Law

In late September, the University of Chicago broke ground on a $42 million addition to its Regenstein Library. Designed by Chicago’s Murphy/Jahn, it is not a wing, per se, but rather a bunker of books topped by a glass dome.

Murphy/Jahn have designed a new wing for the University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library
Murphy/Jahn have designed a new wing for the University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library
Images courtesy Murphy/Jahn
Murphy/Jahn have designed a new wing for the University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library, a Walter Netsch–designed Brutalist work that anchors the predominantly Gothic campus.
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In 2005, the university commissioned Murphy/Jahn to design an addition to the Regenstein, a Walter Netsch–designed Brutalist work that anchors this predominantly Gothic campus. Although Netsch had created expansion plans for the five-story limestone building, those were nullified by a new dormitory, designed by Ricardo Legorreta Vilchis, that took over the site Netsch had wanted. Architects Helmut Jahn and Scott Pratt sketched various appendages for the Regenstein, but its self-contained form seemed to resist any attachments, says Pratt, principal architect for the project.

What they settled on was a solution that was as “as minimal as possible,” Pratt says. In the new facility, called the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, a 25,000-square-foot ground level will contain a 160-seat reading room and preservation operations, all topped by an elliptical glass dome that reaches 36 feet at its apex. Books will be stored in a double-layered underground vault consisting of a 30-inch thick slurry wall, a 5-foot-wide buffer space, and a hermetically sealed liner wall—a design that best ensures the constant humidity and temperature required of fragile tomes, Pratt says. Any book can be retrieved via an automated system and delivered to patrons in a few minutes. The facility will hold 3.5 million volumes, enabling the university to be one of the few remaining American schools to house its entire collection of academic research on campus.

Visually, the building will look strikingly different than its neighbor. Where the Regenstein sports narrow windows, the new structure will be sheathed with glass. Where the Regenstein’s interior is dark and heavy, the dome will convey openness. And in contrast to the Regenstein’s blocky, dominating profile, the Mansueto’s elliptical form will enhance the open character of the site, while preserving green space around the library complex.

The facility is scheduled to open in 2010.

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