The History of Harold Washington Library

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The Harold Washington Library was constructed in 1991, the winning design of Thomas Beeby. After being stored in temporary warehouses for twelve years, the city of Chicago finally decided to create a permanent home for the 4,700,000 items belonging to the public library. A design competition was held with the hope that hundreds of submissions would produce a new building that was not only pleasing to the eye and cost efficient, but also one that would end the embarrassment of not having a library building. In the end, only six designs were submitted, most likely as a result of the impractical set of rules surrounding the competition. Some of the other entries included designs by Dirk Lohan, Arthur Erikson, and Helmut Jahn, whose design actually jumped across the el tracks. In the end, Beeby's design was chosen over the other five entries. Beeby's proposal focused primarily on avoiding anything Mies; that is, people were tired of the numerous knockoffs of Mies's steel and glass towers, so rather than creating a new style of architecture anything unlike Mies seemed to be acceptable. The exterior of the building is nothing more than a curtain wall of granite and brick. Rather than being true to the building's skeletal structure, Beeby chose to cover the façade with granite blocks at the base and brick on the rest of the building. The choice of materials was actually chosen for its durability and low maintenance, however unnecessary they might be. The building seems to have been designed on a gargantuan scale, feeling imposing rather than impressive upon approaching it. The massive five-story, arched windows were meant to reflect Roman architecture, a reference that gets lost in the mix of many architectural styles referenced by the building.

A definite example of Eclectic architecture, the Harold Washington Library attempts to combine Roman inspired elements with the glass and steel structure topping the building. Reminiscent of the years...
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