Poetic motion

Tuesday 04 May 2010

John Ronan’s design for Poetry Foundation brings the garden inside

Poet Joyce Kilmer famously wrote that he ‘would never see a poem as lovely as a tree.’ The Chicago firm John Ronan Architects for the new Poetry Foundation headquarters in Chicago offers the best of Kilmer’s sentiment by proposing an inspiring building that brings nature inside.

Located in the River North neighborhood of Chicago, the new, two-story, 22,000-square-foot building, which recently started construction, doesn’t merely bring in trees and garden into the building as decoration– the verdant additions are very much a room in the new building. The L-shaped property boundary of the site created some limitations and opportunities as the building’s enclosed spaces interlock with the exterior space of the garden, according to John Ronan.

The garden is also the pathway by which visitor reach the building. Conceived as an urban sanctuary, the space offers a buffer between the street and the building as well as the public and private sections of the building. Upon entering the garden, visitors will see the double-height library space that borders the garden. Inside the building, an exhibition gallery connects the library to the poetry reading room where poets will read their work to audiences amid the backdrop of the garden.

After more than a century, this will be the Poetry Foundation’s permanent home and will be Chicago's first building dedicated solely to poetry.The public functions — the poetry reading room, a gallery, and a 35,000-volume non-circulating collection library — are located on the building’s ground floor, while offices space are located on the second level, organized into three areas each for the administration, Poetry magazine and website staff, and programs staff. The building’s internal arrangement is configured so all spaces have views of the garden.

Tectonically, the building is conceived of as a series of layers that visitors move through and between, according to Ronan. Onion-like, the layer of zinc, glass, and wood, peel apart to define the various programmatic zones of the building. The building’s outer layer, a cladding of oxidized zinc, is perforated where it borders the garden, allowing visual access to the garden from the street to encourage visitors to explore the space. Inside the garden, the layers serves to internalize the garden experience and provide a sense of removal as visitors move experience inside.

Ronan said the design of the building and the strategic use of materials are intended to mirror the way in which people read poetry. "Just as good poetry doesn't always divulge all of its meanings on first reading, the new building will engage the public's curiosity and unfold in stages," said Ronan.

The project is intended to be environmentally sustainable and is seeking LEED silver certification under the US Green Building Council's rating system. The building design integrates a number of sustainable design strategies and energy-efficient systems. An area planted with trees and open to the public comprises more than percent of the site. Other features include high-efficiency glazing systems, automated lighting controls, high-efficiency plumbing fixtures, a partial green roof, and finishing materials that are locally sourced and/or produced from renewable or recycled sources.

The total projected cost for the building, including land acquisition, is $21.5 million. The new building is slated to open in June 2011.

Jennifer Potash
News Editor

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Civic Buildings
United States

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