Cutting-edge domed Joe and Rika Mansueto Library opens at University of Chicago
As many university libraries consider the move from physical texts to e-books, the University of Chicago celebrates the official opening of its new Joe and Rika Mansueto Library which incorporates a labyrinthine underground automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) capable of storing 3.5 million volumes.
Funded by a generous donation of $25m from past University of Chicago graduates Joe and Rika Mansueto, the Helmut Jahn-designed space enables 180 students to seat themselves under a sparkling glass dome, set on a slightly angled axis as a gesture towards the nearby Henry Moore monument. Also sheathed within this glistening skin are three glass research cubicles, designed to enable students to consult a large number of texts in solitude for up to two weeks.
Encasing this spacious volume is an elliptical shell of high performance Low E fritted glass, the upper portion of which offers 57% shading with a ceramic frit dot pattern applied to the interior of the external surface of the insulated glass canopy. The glass also rejects 73% of the solar heat and admits 50% of the visible light, enabling the students within to enjoy wide-pan views across the neighbouring grounds whilst bathed in natural sunlight.
The University has made a conscious decision to step away from the presumed route adopted by many educational institutions which suggests that students should be studying largely from e-books and online reference systems. Only this weekend did the Sunday Times publish an enlightening article detailing the lengths Wellington College in London is going to to redevelop its historic library.
Spearheaded by the school’s forward-thinking master, Anthony Seldon, the scheme plans to ‘jettison more than 80% of its library books to make way for an e-reading “research and innovation centre”’. The classic interior of the library has changed little since it was opened in 1859, however new plans look to introduce a handful of squishy orange armchairs, a contemporary glass ‘aptitude centre’ and an external feng shui water garden for quiet contemplation. A number of iPads and electrical outlets will encourage students to turn to e-learning rather than physical volumes.
Helmut Jahn has gone to great lengths to demonstrate that an innovative library does not have to rely on e-reading to earn its stripes, introducing a cavernous space hidden deep under the 8,000 sq ft Grand Reading Room where the same technology used by car manufacturers Ford and GM manages to store an incredible number of texts in one-seventh of the space taken up by conventional shelving methods.
The ASRS system enables students to order a book externally via an online catalogue or search engine, and then pick it up from the library reception five or so minutes later. A computerised system tracks the location of the selected volume from the 50ft high racks and a robotic crane deposits it to a member of staff. This process is clarified in the short video displayed below.
In order to begin construction on this majestic new library and reading room, a number of age-old trees - several of which were planted in memory of former librarians - had to be removed from the site. Lumber salvaging firm Horigan Urban Forest Products, Inc. undertook the task of transforming the ash, oak and maple trees that couldn’t be replanted into one-off pieces of furniture for use in the University’s Regenstein Library, working in collaboration with Scott Chambers of Fine Woodworks. A series of unique benches and tables have since been hand-crafted and distributed throughout the site, in a lasting reminder of the campus’ history.
For many hardworking students the library is a home-from-home, with scores of hours spend slaving in dark corners or scouring the racks for dusty texts. As such it is an intrinsic part of university life and any library project of this nature demands a truly inspirational concept.
One of the building’s funders Joe Mansueto explains: “Like most students at the University, [Rika and I] found the library to be a central part of the experience. Our typical days included going to Regenstein every night. It was really interwoven into our daily routines at University. So when we were looking to five a gift to the school, a new library resonated with us.”