Chicago's new public library, the Harold Washington Library, is certainly an eye-catching sight when you suddenly come across it! Built in 1991 and named after a former city Mayor who fought hard for its construction, it has been reported to be the largest public library building in the world.
Architecturaly, large street-level granite blocks support the red bricks that make up the majority of the exterior. The west side of the building has a glass, steel and aluminum wall to provide plenty of natural light for reading. However, what really caught my eye were the fantastic ornaments added to its roof in 1993! My 2nd photo shows a close-up view of one of these 'acroteria angularia' as they are officially known - it features an Owl, symbolizing knowledge to the Greeks, nestled in vegetation of some sort.
This is the largest public library in the United States and is named after the first African-American Mayor of Chicago. This building houses the Chicago Blues Archives and the Jazz/Blues/Gospel Hall of Fame. Works by Chicago artists line the walls. There is a used bookstore and a cafe. On the 9th floor is the Wintergarden....complete with skylights, that is used for special events and performances.
When I was a junior and senior in high school I would take periodic trips to the City of Chicago from the southwest suburbs where I lived just to spend the day at the old library doing research for a school project and then heading over to the 3rd floor of Marshall Fields to buy a couple of books on what I called the book floor.
Alas the old library is now the Cultural Center and Marshall Fields is now Macy's. I've been in Macy's only once or twice and I'm not even sure they sell books anymore and up until recently I had never been inside the "new" (opened in 1991) Harold Washington Library (no more school research projects). But on this particular day as I was meeting another VT member for lunch to plan our Chicago VT meeting she said she had to drop off some books at the library a couple of blocks away. So with that opening I said I should really get in and take a peak.
Sure glad I did. Explored the 9th floor Winter Garden and that day they even had a special little Civil War exhibit in one of the rooms which I enjoyed being a Civil War Buff.
The library is huge and according to most sources is the largest public library building in the world. The library fits it really nicely with all the other buildings in the area.
So if you are in Chicago on a rainy day like I was take a little time out from your busy schedule and cruise on into the library for a quick read or just to browse at the current and not so current books.
Its massive size and the architect's use of post-modernist stylistic details make this 1991 library a controversial structure. Architecture buffs tend to either love it or hate. Myself, I'm a fan. The public spaces inside are in keeping with Chicago's great Beaux Arts traditions. And the Winter Garden on the top floor, with its stunning glass roof, is a must-see, IMHO. (It's also a great place for a rendez-vous with an illicit lover. Hee-hee.)
It's just a bit peculiar that there's no important space on the ground level - you have to go up to the third floor for the "front desk".
On the top floor, you'll also find exhibit space where the Library shows off interesting material from its archival collection. When I was there last (2007) they had an exhibit about speeched of Harold Washington, and another about the amusement parks of Old Chicago.
The Washington Library was designed by the Architectural firm of Hammond, Beeby and Babka.
If you are in Chicago, you should visit the Harold Washington Library. It's much more than a library. There is a coffee shop, art exhibits, permanent and changing museum exhibits, concerts. There is even an indoor garden--very peaceful in the middle of the bustle of the city. The architecture is fantastic--my son loved the gargoyles when he was young!
Chicago has many public libraries but the largest and the best architectural wonder that looks like a fortress would be the Harold Washington Public Library located in State Street, the old shopping area of Chicago and the best hing here is that is has a has free wifi internet service . The building was designed by the architectural firm of Hammond, Beeby and Babka, now known as Hammond Beeby Rupert Ainge, Inc., winners of a design competition held in 1987 to replace the old central library, which had been housed in the present Chicago Cultural Center. Named for the city's first and only African-American mayor, who died of a heart attack in 1987 at the beginning of his second term in office, the building fills an entire city block here at State Street and Congress Parkway.
Hours: Mon-Thurs 9am-7pm; Fri-Sat 9am-5pm; Sun 1-5pm
Reputedly the largest library building in the world, Chicago's central library, the Harold Washington Library in the downtown Loop area (although my understanding is that it is technically in the South Loop, it is right on the edge of the core Loop area), is an impressive building to visit, not to mention an impressive library as such. It is indeed huge, none stories tall, and flamboyantly grand in a style that does not readily give away the fact that it was completed in 1991. It is impressive to visit for the place but also has rotating displays of art, another example of the incredible devotion to public art, much free, in this city which is really superlative for seeing public art and museums in this country. Like most libraries, it also has good facilities for children.
I'm just loading pictures and place holders until I can get back and add some text. Come back in November and see what's been added.