Harold Washington Library Center
400 South State Street
Thomas Beeby of Hammond, Beeby & Babka
A. Epstein & Sons International, associate architects
Hammond, Beeby & Babka won a much-publicized
and controversial commission to design the largest library building in the country, and
spent $195 million to carry out this missive.
When downtown Chicago was levelled in the Great
Fire of 1871, the "can-do" city sprung almost immediately from whole cloth.
Whether or not you like the Library Center probably depends upon whether you think this
early cohesiveness and its directional impact is comforting or anti-innovative. It
certainly is unlike any library Ive ever been in: enormous, well-organized, amply
staffed, and blessed with good signage. These attributes, along with the centrally
organizing escalators, often make the library feel more like a well-heeled retail mall
than a library, awaiting only a Starbucks cafe.
The building has taken much flak for its
unabashed post-modern behemoth-ness; but Chicago loves its public library system; is big
and loves big things; and takes great pride in its historic architecture. Now it has a
great big historic-looking library. Ask and ye shall receive.
Or, in the words of eminent architectural
historian Vincent Scully, "This is a classicism that, in a sense, is all Chicago: big
and brutal like the city itself, but specifically metallic and fluid like the interlocking
iron work of Louis Sullivans Carson Pirie Scott store...one powerful mass, built of
the very bones and blood of Chicago, of the tough body of the Loop, and the ancient urban
gesture of its classical facade." (AIA Guide to Chicago).
Christy Rogers, 1998
How to visit
Downtown Chicago is best negotiated by foot,
cab, or train. The closest stop on the loop is the Library stop; on the red line, the