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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

Independence Library & Apartments Wins Architectural Excellence Award

The building that houses a library and affordable senior housing was recognized as a "truly creative and attractive design that meets public and private needs."

The Independence Library and Apartments.
Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards
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OLD IRVING PARK — The Independence Library & Apartments, a mix of affordable housing for seniors atop Old Irving Park’s library, was honored with an award for architectural excellence.

John Ronan Architects won first place in the Richard R. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design. Ronan’s design for a building that houses a public library and affordable senior housing was recognized as a “truly creative and attractive design that meets public and private needs.”

John Ronan

The award is part of the annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards, which is run by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago.

The awards gala, scheduled for earlier this month, was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Block Club is highlighting some of the winners and publishing the award videos that were to be played at the ceremony.

The library/senior housing at 4022 N. Elston Ave. came in first in front of KLEO Art Residences in Washington Park, designed by the firm JGMA, and La Casa Norte Foundation Center in Humboldt Park, designed by Landon Bone Baker Architects.

“With handsome materials such as striated concrete and corrugated metal, chosen for their beauty as well as their functionality, the building has drawn acclaim from users and architectural critics alike,” according to the Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards’ description of the winning library project.

“Apartments and hallways are colorful, avoiding an institutional feeling and helping residents find their way. While the library is aligned with neighboring buildings at street level for continuity, the residential tower is set back to diminish any sense of bulk to the structure.”

The Independence Library branch opened in 2019 at the former site of the Hollerbach Funeral Home.

The building, part of a $23.6 million project, took four years to complete and includes flexible space for meetings or independent study, a graduated seating staircase and adult stacks on the library’s second floor. There is affordable senior housing above the library, creating an innovative way to merge two community needs.

The library boasts an open floor plan with natural light.

Credit: Alex Hernandez/ Block Club Chicago
Independence Library has a graduated seating staircase.

Independence Library’s amenities include an early learning play space designed to help kids develop literacy skills and a YOUmedia space, which allows teens to explore digital design, music and recording technology. 

The library’s CyberNavigator program allows adults hoping to learn basic computer skills or apply for a job online to work with tutors to brush up on their digital skills like resume writing, interview prep and other industry-specific skills.

Credit: Alex Hernandez/ Block Club Chicago
The second floor of the Independence Library includes group work spaces, YOUMedia space and adult book stacks.

The Independence Library branch is one of three branches that were built as part of an arrangement between the Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Public Library to locate libraries within new mixed- or low-income housing developments.

The building was financed through an arrangement with the Chicago Housing Authority and relies on funding from federal sources and tax credits. 

The Independence Apartments are 44 senior apartments, including 30 public housing and 14 affordable units above the library. The branch was designed by John Ronan Architects and constructed through a partnership with Chicago Housing Authority and Evergreen Real Estate Group. The general contractor was Leopardo Companies, with Evergreen Construction Company assisting.

Credit: Alex Hernandez/ Block Club Chicago
Ribbon cutting of the Independence Library branch.

Independence Library History

The Independence Library branch has waited more than 130 years for a building to call its own. A fire destroyed the storefront that was its prior home four years ago.

RELATED: Fire Creates ‘Book Desert’; Neighbors Say New Library Long Overdue

The library began as the Irving Park Woman’s Club literary society in 1888. Starting in 1901, each club member was asked to donate one book or magazine to form a circulating library, according to the Chicago Public Library.

By 1913, the club opened a library at the Independence Park field house, 3945 N. Springfield Ave. The library was located there until about 1928 and eventually moved to the brick storefront at 3718 W. Irving Park Road — which is now Keller’s Martial Arts — where it stayed in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

On July 15, 1995, the library moved again, this time into a commercial storefront property at 3548 W. Irving Park Road. This space caught fire in 2015.

After the fire, local schools, community groups, park advisory councils, Friends of Independence Library and active neighbors organized for a permanent library branch.

KLEO Art Residences, Second Place, Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence:

La Casa Norte, Third Place, Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence:

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