Joe and Rika Mansueto Library / Murphy/Jahn

Courtesy of Murphy Jahn

The site in the center of the University of Chicago Campus is surrounded by a variety of different buildings. With a mixture of styles, ranging from the gothic quadrangle to the south, the Limestone Brutalism of Netsch’s Regenstein Library to the east, the Henry Moore monument and Legorreta’s colorful Student Housing to the north and a building to the west, which will be replaced by a new Science Building. There is not much to relate to.

Architect: Murphy Jahn
Location: Chicago, ,
Lead Designer: Helmut Jahn
Project Area: 58,700 sqf
Project Year: 2011
Photographs: Courtesy of Murphy Jahn

Courtesy of Murphy Jahn

The problem was to store 3.5 million books with an Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS). The expectations in the brief suggested to house those in a well designed “Box” above grade. In an effort to infringe as little as possible with the open space, make the Reading Room and the Preservation Department the most pleasant space to be in and in line with our approach to challenge habitual conventions, we opted to put the books below grade, where their environment can be better controlled to achieve the desired constant temperature and humidity of 60 degrees, 30% RH – at less cost. The people oriented spaces could thus be located at grade in a minimal elliptical glass dome, which fits the context, because it defies conventional relationships.


Murphy Jahn think it has been embraced by the leadership of the University, because it represents the mission of the University of Chicago as catalyst for the advancement of knowledge. It is interesting that this happened at an Institution where the disciplines of Architecture and Engineering are not taught, but a spirit prevails to go beyond where others stop. Science, Physics, the liberal and applied Art start, when others think they are complete.


Once a consensus on the design was reached, the normal process started to solve the problem: comfort and sustainability, light-control, structure, life-safety, operation and maintenance.

Courtesy of Murphy Jahn

The structural grid-shell of 120 x 240 feet and the insulated glazing represent a very minimal and intelligent system for mediating between the varying exterior conditions and the desired interior comfort.

Courtesy of Murphy Jahn

At the interior there is a seamless integration between lighting, air supply and furnishings, which were fabricated in solid European White Oak.

Courtesy of Murphy Jahn

More than anybody the users will benefit from an environment that is pleasant and conductive to study and research. This is not your classical Library, but points to the library of the future.


View this project in Google Maps

* Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address.
Cite: "Joe and Rika Mansueto Library / Murphy/Jahn" 14 Jun 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 May 2015. <>
  • Adam Waltering

    Where are the books? I understand there is an automated retrieval system, but this is no library. I suppose if you know exactly what you want then it would work just fine. How many times has anyone gone to the library and just browsed? I think that is the best part about a library. I don’t see how this would create a remotely satisfying library visit.

    • Shaun

      This isnt the only library at University of Chicago its one of six. It also doesnt house general circulating materials. It didnt say above but this library houses special research materials and rare collections that shouldn’t be on general display, hence the giant underground storage. the Huge concrete building next to this is the library that has traditional stacks.

  • Thomas Schneider

    To me I feel this building represents the challenge with the digital era and its relationship to architecture typology. What are the boundaries with which architecture can house an experience as simple as browsing a library. This library is basically using digital means to retrieve something tangible. I feel it more closely relates to a sort of immediate online shopping experience. This is not to say it is a bad thing, it is simply exploring the limits of ‘the library’. Architecture is meant to push the boundaries of our culture and I am excited ti see how the buildings visitors will respond.

  • mvb

    Very nice idea and beautiful section. But I’am worried about the direct sunlight. There should be an interior blind system under the dome to shade the reading places.

  • oy

    would it be too similar to the national botanic garden which was finished at 2000?

  • Salih Kochchat


  • Pingback: Joe and Rika Mansueto Library « anacalum

  • Pingback: ArchDaily on Mansueto Library | The University of Chicago Library News

  • jatikusuma

    Great building with it system, but I think it’ll lost sense of true library, just search and got the book, no social interaction