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Architecture Wed May 14 2008

'The Mansueto Mound', U of C's Library Addition Unveiled

The University of Chicago unveiled the design for an addition to the to the Joseph Regenstein Library Monday. Imagined by Helmut Jahn, the library is almost entirely submerged into the ground except for a hemisphere of glass. The addition, set to be completed in 2010, will possess a high-density, automated book storage and retrieval system allowing the university to finally maintain their entire collection on campus. In addition to the new building project, the University of Chicago will also be participating in the Google Book Search program to help digitize selected volumes. The building will cost an estimated $80 milion, of which Morningstar Inc. CEO and wife, Joe and Rika Mansueto are donating $25 million.


At first glance, the overall design concept of an underground building seems quite logical. Book stacks have no need for windows or daylight, the latter of which aids to their deterioration. The most public portion of the building, the reading room, is enclosed by the ellipsoidal glass system, advanced technology that no Jahn design would be without. While the renderings may be misleading at this stage of its development, exterior to the glass enclosure is devoid of any detail. It would seem that the opportunity to submerge a building would create useable green/plaza space at grade. Notwithstanding the inevitable comparisons to I.M. Pei's Louvre Museum in Paris, the glass structure portrays itself more as a sculpture, something to be viewed, but not approached. In the Louvre's situation, one can at least walk across the glass of the "negative" response to the "positive" pyramidal form (yes, like in the DaVinci Code). While the current design dynamically juxtaposes the existing library and Chicago's strict grid system, it may benefit from a more tactile relationship to the site.

Lastly, it is difficult not to share Chicago Tribune Architecture Critic, Blair Kamin's concern that the glass enclosure will heat the reading room like a green house. To prevent creating a popcorn popper top to the new library, the glass will be fitted with ceramic patterns to block sunlight or, as Mr. Jahn said, "At least that's what the engineers tell me." Inspires confidence, doesn't it?

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Jamie SmithAuthor Profile Page / May 15, 2008 10:25 AM

Though I'll be glad to see the glass enclosure supplant the raggedy old tennis courts that currently exist in that space, I'm saddened to see the University gradually replacing the Neo-gothic architecture that gives the campus so much character/flava. In the area immediately surrounding the library they've already built a new dorm, gym, and science building and there's many more changes planned for the rest of campus. Stay Classy, U of C!

James12 / November 10, 2010 8:02 AM

Well, if you claim that the overall design concept of an underground building seems quite logical.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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