Harold Washington Library Center, Chicago

Harold Washington Library Center, Chicago

Opened in 1991 and named in honor of Chicago's first African American mayor, this building emerged as the winning design following a highly publicized 1988 competition. It notably presented the most overtly traditional approach among the diverse proposals conceived to house the main library collection, which had languished in temporary quarters for a decade. Architected primarily by Thomas Beeby, the structure pays homage to Neoclassical institutions while avoiding slavish adherence to all their architectural particulars.

This granite-and-brick edifice, colossal and somewhat whimsical, almost assumes the role of a uniquely postmodern tribute to Chicago's rich architectural heritage. The robust and textured ground level pays homage to the Rookery, while the stepped-back, arched windows echo the grand arches found in the Auditorium Theatre. The swirling terra-cotta ornamentation takes inspiration from the Marquette Building, and the glass curtain wall on the west side tips its hat to 1950s modernism. Crowning the building are imposing, gargoyle-like sculptures, including owls ready to offer sage advice (or perhaps just some hoots of wisdom).

Rather unexpectedly, the grandeur one anticipates upon entering a building of this magnitude is encountered not on the ground floor but at the pinnacle, the 9th floor. Here, the impressive, sunlit Winter Garden offers a serene oasis reminiscent of an outdoor courtyard. The 8th floor accommodates practice rooms for musicians and serves as a venue for listening to rare recordings or playing the piano. On the second floor, the former library, now known as the Cultural Center, is equally captivating, featuring the world's largest Tiffany dome within its splendid chamber. The exceptional Children's Library, sprawling across 18,000 square feet, showcases wall-mounted figures by Chicago Imagist Karl Wirsum, while the walkway above the main lobby displays works by renowned Chicago artists.

Since its completion, the Library has earned its place in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest public library building globally.

Why You Should Visit:
Each floor offers special displays and collections worth exploring.
The library hosts poetry readings, art exhibitions, and boasts an unparalleled children's library.

Tip:
Make sure to ride the elevator directly to the 9th floor, where you can bask in the splendor of the exquisite glass ceiling and relish the tranquility and sunshine of the Winter Garden.

Want to visit this sight? Check out these Self-Guided Walking Tours in Chicago. Alternatively, you can download the mobile app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store. The app turns your mobile device to a personal tour guide and it works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Harold Washington Library Center on Map

Sight Name: Harold Washington Library Center
Sight Location: Chicago, USA (See walking tours in Chicago)
Sight Type: Attraction/Landmark
Guide(s) Containing This Sight:

Walking Tours in Chicago, Illinois

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