John Ronan Architect LLC for Independence Library & Apartments

 2020 Driehaus Award, First Place


John Ronan Architects for Evergreen Realty, Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago Public Library

4024 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

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While it took 130 years to meet their request, the residents of Old Irving Park were elated at the opening of the Chicago Public Library, Independence Branch, which creatively offered both the long-desired library and greatly needed affordable housing to the community. Challenged by fiscal constraints and responding to the need for vibrant community centers, former Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed the novel solution of combining affordable housing and a community library into a single structure. One of three such innovative developments in Chicago, Independence Library and Apartments is the work of award-winning architect John Ronen Architect, LLC, for developer Evergreen Real Estate Services, the Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Housing Authority. Built along north Elston Avenue, the two-story, 16,000-square-foot library occupies the ground and second floors of the building, while 44 one- and two- bedroom apartments for seniors are on the upper four floors. With handsome materials such as striated concrete and corrugated metal, chosen for their beauty as well as their functionality, the building has drawn acclaim from users and architectural critics alike. Apartments and hallways are colorful, avoiding an institutional feeling and helping residents find their way. While the library is aligned with neighboring buildings at street-level for continuity, the residential tower is set back to diminish any sense of bulk to the structure. Responding to the community and emblematic of the collaborative process in the design of the building, on its south elevation is a large owl—the symbol of the Chicago Public Library. The two-story library is designed to meet the needs of users of all ages. While tots have a space on the first floor, broad stairs, also used for seating for story time and lectures, provide a transition to the second floor with its many special teen room and adult study spaces. Walls of windows to the west and east provide abundant natural light and there is a second-floor outdoor patio for resident use, which is complemented by architecturally designed lighting inside – as much art as light. For a truly creative and attractive design that meets public and private needs and respects a public budget, this year’s recipient of the First Place Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design is John Ronan Architect LLC for the Independence Library & Apartments.