The Poetry Foundation is one of my favorite buildings in the world and one of the 23 Buildings You Shouldn’t Miss in Chicago If You Are An Architect. Yet so small it is one of the most effective buildings in terms of concept. In my opinion, visiting this space is like reading a poem: you always get a new perspective and have different interpretations.
WHAT IS IT: The new home for the Poetry Foundation was designed by John Ronan Architects and built in 2011, being 26,000 sqf its project area . It is located in 61 West Superior Street, Chicago (Illinois) and its site had an L-shaped property boundary. It is also environmentally sustainable and built to comply with the US Green Building Council’s Silver Level LEED Rating System.
CONCEPT: Like a poem that invites multiple readings, the space encourages repeat visits, revealing itself slowly over time. That is why the building is organized in a series of layers.
PROGRAM: Public functions—the performance space, gallery and library—are located on the building’s ground floor, while offices space are located on the second level, organized into three areas (Foundation Administration, Poetry magazine/website, and Programs).
The building is configured to allow for views from all spaces into the garden.The garden space, which formally interlocks with the enclosed building, is conceived as another “room” of the building, and part of the building’s slowly-unfolding spatial sequence.
MATERIALS + DETAILS: Tectonically, the building is conceived of as a series of layers that visitors move through and between. Layers, of zinc, glass, and wood, peel apart to define the various spaces of the building.
The building’s outer layer of oxidized zinc becomes perforated where it borders the garden, allowing visual access to the garden from the street to encourage public investigation.
Inside the garden, the zinc screen wall serves to internalize the garden experience and provide a sense of removal, to prepare visitors for the experience inside. Baltic birch plywood embraces the interior by forming the shelves as well as paneling.
The ground materials are the same for interior and exterior pavements.
NEGATIVE ASPECTS: The only negative aspect of this building is how it deals with its surroundings. The side that is open to the public is permeable and the layers have a lot of meaning. But, what about its adjacencies? As we turn Dearborn Street we find this completely solid corner, and as we move forward we find the neighbour building abruptly.
The neighbour building has its north façade all covered by windows that face the back part of The Poetry Foundation. This solution is not very elegant and is indeed one of its weakest points.
PROTECTION SYSTEM: How is The Poetry Foundation protected at night? This solution is neither very intelligent. To prevent people from getting in part of the pavement is folded up as shown in the following image.
All pictures: ©Virginia Duran
If you want to learn more about Chicago’s Architecture have a look to my Free Architecture Guide of Chicago or click on the map below.