Don't Judge a Library by it's Cover

University of Chicago made history on it’s Hyde Park Campus by creating a library from the future with the help of Barton Malow and architect Helmut Jahn. The building contains the largest automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) in North America with room for 3.5 million volumes. An addition to the University’s existing Joseph Regenstein Library, the libraries are connected by a new bridge and includes approximately 62,000 square feet of new construction.

The stunning oval glass dome is meniscus of glass, a scaly skin that gleams in the sunlight on the busy campus, spanning some 240-feet long by 120-feet wide. Inside, the quiet hum of white noise and students staring intently at laptops. The desk areas are minimal, made with simple clean lines and plain benches and chairs. The rich, modern wood fixtures and stunning circulation desk bustles with busy librarians. Behind glass walled partitions are rooms for private offices and studying. Behind the circulation area is a work area for conservationists to restore rare, out of publication books. The real contradiction is the notion of a typical quiet library with study carrels and volumes of books on shelves – those traditional beliefs are completely ignored in this wide-open, transparent environment.

The real story behind this building is not the student area, but what is happening below the glass dome and study area. The librarians take an elevator down to the basement of the library and a different world emerges underground – 58 feet below-grade. A stunning machine of storage containers, cranes and computers operates seamlessly and robotically. The cranes span 50 feet in the air, placing volumes in their designated slots amongst the steel shelving. The steel metal containers create the ultimate organizational system with 24,000 bins to store books.

All of this is surrounded by a 30-inch slurry wall with 334 tie-backs that are 60-75 feet below ground level into the bedrock. The structure is floating on water and anchored down by the bedrock tie-backs. The temperature and humidity is controlled at all times to preserve the volumes while they rest in storage. Librarians use a computer system to categorize, organize the volumes and retrieve materials. The giant cranes are controlled by this system to retrieve the materials from the warehouse of steel boxes.

Although, not seeking LEED certification, the project incorporates many sustainable features, including maximizing the use of products with high recycled content, that are regionally procured. The team is also managed and tracked construction waste to divert at least 50% of the construction waste to recycling centers.