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