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A Library Addition at U. of Chicago Keeps Books Close

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A glass dome will serve as the visible portion of a library addition at the U. of Chicago, designed by Helmut Jahn. The bulk of the building will be underground. (U. of Chicago images)

The University of Chicago is planning a $80-million library addition, designed by Chicago architect Helmut Jahn. The library will take the form of a glass dome and will sit close to the university’s Brutalist Joseph Regenstein Library. The library, which will open in 2010, will be named in honor of Joe Mansueto, chairman and chief executive officer of Morningstar Inc., and his wife, Rika, who gave $25-million to the project.

The dome will rise 35 feet above the surface, and according to The Chicago Tribune, it will have a coating that will help reduce heat gain in the summer and heat loss in the winter. (It will also be coated with dots to reduce the number of birds that might smack into it.)

Most of the building will be hidden underground. Book vaults, stacks, special collections, and preservation facilities will exist in the bulk of the building 50 feet underground. The high-density system will have the capacity to store 3.5 million books and will allow patrons to get access to books instantly with the help of a robotic retrieval system. The university acquires about 150,000 books a year, so the space is expected to provide about 22 years of growth.

Even though space on the urban campus is tight, faculty members were adamant that books should remain close by and accessible — they would not stand for moving books to an off-campus storage facility, as many research universities have. “The experience of most of these other libraries is that the off-site stuff doesn’t get used,” Andrew Abbott, a sociology professor who served on a library-planning board, told The Chronicle in 2005. “People go to work where books are easily available.”

Mr. Jahn’s design joins other glassy structures by signature architects that have been built on the campus recently, including a business school by Raphael Viñoly and an athletics center by Cesar Pelli. His library design for Chicago is also well within the tradition of underground libraries at space-crunched research universities, such as Cornell University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Minnesota. —Scott Carlson

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