Harold Washington Library Front Elevation

2017 National DiscoverDesign Competition: Library + Community Space Design

Design a public library on 75’x125’ lot in the Little Italy neighborhood of Chicago to improve access to this public resource. Research the city, neighborhood and local audience to inform your design decisions and present a digital or physical model for a Chicago Public Library branch on the corner of West Taylor Street and South Ada Street, Chicago, Illinois.


About Libraries as Community Centers


There are 79 public libraries in Chicago that serve as community anchors, and spaces where people can come together for civic and community activities. Yet, not everyone has access to a library within walking distance of their house. The Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Public Library are working together to address the need for a new library for the Little Italy/University Village community.

Define your problem with a short statement answering the following questions….

  • who are you designing for?
  • where are you designing?

Collect Info

Gather as much information as possible about the site and the people who will use the library.

About the Site and Neighborhood

Approximate address: 1340 West Taylor Street, Chicago, IL 60607

The site is located on an empty lot at the northwest corner of West Taylor Street and South Ada Street, Chicago. For your design project and this competition, the site measures 75’ (east/west) along WestTaylor Street and 125’ (north/south) along South Ada Street. 75’ x 125’ is the size of three typical Chicago residential lots. Total lot size available = 9,375 square feet.

The site is currently a parking lot, but a new mixed used building (with library on the lower floor and a mix of low income, affordable, and market rate apartments above) has been proposed by the City of Chicago for the same site

Try This 

  • Do a ‘site visit’ of your location using google street view. Document what you see with notes, sketches, and screenshots. What is and isn’t there?
  • Create a land use map to get a sense of location’s housing options and other community spaces around it.
  • Research the Little Italy/University Village to learn more about the people who live in the area.

Think about

  • How you might create an inviting space that is unique to the local community.
  • Research the Chicago Public Library to learn more about their mission and vision.
  • Make a list of the features that you really like about public libraries that you think all people should have access to.
  • Make a separate list of all the ways the current library options are not so well designed. You could use your school library as a case study.
  • Research other library solutions around the world. What about their designs inspire you? How so?

Brainstorm Ideas

How can people best use libraries? Get your early idea out on paper with notes, sketches, lists or photos to help see your ideas take shape.

Libraries as Community Spaces

Chicago Public Libraries (CPL) are open, public spaces that provide free resources for our communities. Libraries may contain facilities such as an information center, a children’s area, an adult reading room, teen media rooms, and community meeting spaces. The CPL’s goal is to encourage community interaction by creating more open spaces and transparency in their buildings, which increases the richness of interactions among patrons and between patrons and their local communities.

What types of spaces need to be included in and around the library?

Libraries have many spaces to serve different functions, resources and ages. Consider these typical library spaces and average square footage needed.

Try This:

  • Create a bubble diagram to map out all the different spaces and how they are connected. Mapping all the needed spaces will help shape your overall design later on.
  • Use Google Maps to view and print out an aerial photo of your location. Plot out the site dimensions (75’x125’). How can you best use the site based on the location of other buildings, roads, sidewalks, parking, bus stops, etc. Also, what will fit on the lot? Hint: you will have to build up to make it fit! Upload the aerial map and sketch and write about how the surrounding area might impact your design.
  • On a piece of tracing paper placed over the aerial photo of your school, sketch a diagram showing a large arc around the building to show the path of the sun throughout the day.  This drawing is called a site analysis diagram (Remember, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west).

Think About

  • Spend some time looking at the aerial photo of your location.  What types of other buildings surround it?  Homes, businesses, parks, parking lots, or an empty field?  How will these other buildings impact the design?
  • What types of streets surround your housing? Are they busy or quiet?
  • Consider the climate in Chicago and how it will impact the materials you choose. Consider how your library uses energy and natural resources to minimize the building’s impact on the environment.

Develop Solutions

Time to put it all together and see what happens. Try a few versions – what do you like the best and why?

Try This

  • Use cardboard to create a rough 3D study model of early ideas. Models don't need to show detail, just the overall size and massing for your library.
  • Use software such as SketchUp, AutoCAD, or Revit to illustrate your ideas.
  • Make a list of all the unique spaces and features you plan to have in your housing solution.
  • Based on the site analysis diagram you've sketched, where is the sun located throughout the day?
  • How can the indoor and outdoor areas of your new housing be positioned to take advantage of the sunlight for good lighting?
  • Do not leave work for the last minute. Going through a detailed design process requires time to gather information, develop ideas, and make improvements. The jury can always tell what projects are researched, developed and well executed…

Final Design

Upload images of your final design and describe the view – what are we looking at and why is it important?

Review your design and test it against your original success statement that you wrote for the Overview. Does it solve the design challenge?


  • Upload detail images that showcase different perspectives and spaces of your design from an eye-level perspective.
    • Exterior View: a rendering of the exterior of your house
    • Interior View 1: a view showing the interior of your house
    • Interior View 2: a view showing the interior of your house
    • Material Detail View 1: a detail image of an important material (interior or exterior) used in/on your house
    • Any other images you’d like to include to help the jury understand your design.
  • Write about your target audience and material choices.
    • How does this design benefit your community?
    • Tell us about the site and materials you have included in your design and why.

Projects must be submitted to the Competition Portal by 5:00pm CST on November 17, 2017 to qualify for jury review. You must submit your design project URL and one (1) overall image to the competition platform.


  • Your overall 3D view and the site plan should show the street and neighboring buildings, to help the jury understand how your building sits on the site. Include trees and people to help the jury understand the scale of your building.  
  • If you are creating a physical model, take a picture with a high quality camera or use the HDR setting on a phone. Take the photo against a blank wall or surface and get close! Do not include a lot of stuff or people in the background of your photo.
  • If you are working in a digital design software like SketchUp, do not submit a screenshot of your work. These files may be too small and blurry for the jury to review. Export your files at a large size and upload.