Taylor Street Apartments and Little Italy Branch Library

Finalist 2020

The Taylor Street Apartments and Little Italy Library branch is one of the city’s first co-located Chicago Housing Authority and Public Library branches. The development is sited on the corner of West Taylor and Ada Streets and includes a one-story public library branch and a multi-story mixed-income residential complex, with additional community spaces at street level. Designed to create a synergy between the two distinct programs, the building serves as a new hub for the neighborhood.

The Little Italy Branch Library welcomes the community inside, with soaring open spaces designed for kids, teenagers, and adults located adjacent to centralized workspaces for librarians and staff. The interior public library spaces and residential amenity spaces feature neutral tones of exposed concrete for the columns and polished floors, complemented by the natural warm tones of stained white oak casework, colored acoustical felt ceiling elements, and accents of color from vinyl wall graphics. The graphic treatment, used for wayfinding and definition of unique program spaces, creates a vibrant identity for the place. The environmental graphics and signage concept stemmed from the new building’s façade pattern. For a new library in one of Chicago’s oldest neighborhoods, the graphic concept celebrates a bright future.

A tangram wilderness scene compiled of cut-out colorful felt in the Children’s Area provides hours of puzzle play with multiple combinations of the seven geometric shapes. Instagram-ready graphics are proudly displayed at the Library’s entrance, serving as a branding of the new library member among Chicago Public Library branches.

We were asked to create a welcoming and shared new community space in a neighborhood of very different kinds of people who rarely come together. The site is central to one of Chicago’s oldest ethnic neighborhoods that has been undergoing change in recent decades. This was a government project with a minimal graphics budget. We saw the Environmental Graphic Design challenge as uniting and harmonizing these many disparate audiences with a common “language” that wasn’t a language.

The project has far exceeded our hopes, being highly popular – even crowded – throughout its brief life, and it brings this highly diverse community together, melded as one, in a comfortable shared space. We have been told by parents that they drive their children from the economically disadvantaged areas of the community to the library, so they can enjoy “this bright, inspiring and beautiful” space. The library staff has expressed to us their gratitude for creating an enjoyable place to work. The project has brought new energy and excitement to the former site of one of America’s first housing projects, as a community-defining center.

“I continue to be interested in new things that seem old, and old things that seem new”
- Jaqueline T. Robertson, FAIA, FAICP

Design Firms: 

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)

Client: 

Chicago Housing Authority

Project Area: 

69,768 st ft

Open Date: 

January 2019

Project Budget: 

N/A

Photo Credits: 

Tom Harris

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