A Palace of Knowledge, Made in Chicago
By Rafał Muskala
Believe it or not, but at some time in the past, Chicago needed space for its growing book collection. In the 1970’s, for instance, the Central City Library on Michigan Ave couldn’t hold the amount of volumes it had obtained. Books were moved to various locations, but politicians knew there was a need for a new place. In 1987, they ordered a design and build competition. With the budget of 144 million dollars, expectations were set very high.
Surprisingly, only six teams met the deadline and five prepared a design, one of which was created by the Arthur Erickson Architects from Canada. The final winning design was created by Hammond, Beeby and Babka Inc, who developed a “unique structure, incorporating architectural flourishes”, as described by Daniel Pogorzelski, Vice-President of the Northwest Chicago Historical Society.
In 1991, after three years of construction, the building was finally done. The Windy City skyline welcomed its new member, which fit with its 19th century neighbors. The triangle roof was a tribute to The Art Institute of Chicago and its arched windows reminded Chicagoans of the famous Auditorium Theatre on Congress Pkwy. The name was also a thank you note to the person who wanted the library the most – Chicago’s first African-American mayor, Harold Washington, who “was dedicated to empowering average Chicagoans”, as said by Pogorzelski.
Today, the ten story building is much more than just a library. The 9th floor is a place where you can peacefully read a book, but it also serves as a space where you can also have some fun on your wedding day. The Winter Garden atrium fits up to 500 people and hosts various events throughout the year. Even the Grand Lobby can be transformed for large stand-up receptions.
For those who like live entertainment, the Auditorium is a perfect place to be. Hidden in the basement is a large 30 foot stage with seating for 385 people – large enough to present your next book, performance or see even a movie.
Make The Harold Washington Library a must see on your list of what to visit next in the Loop, and not only because the building itself appears in the Guinness World Records as the largest public library in the world, but also because, as Pogorzelski describes, “the arts collection [it offers] reflects diversity, making Chicagoans who hail from all corners of the globe feel at home in this palace dedicated to bringing knowledge to the common man.”
So don’t be shy!
Stop by 400 S. State St. and see what your tax money has provided – money well spent!