Three architecture firms in Chicago will design developments that co-locate public library branches and public housing projects, according to Curbed Chicago.
John Ronan Architects, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and Perkins+Will, will start taking community input on the projects' designs, with construction slated to begin by the end of 2017 and finish in winter 2018.
The projects will be located in the city's West Ridge, Near West Side and Irving Park neighborhoods, with proposed features including a corrugated metal exterior with colorful balconies on one and wood sunshades with a green roof on another.
The move to pair affordable housing with public entities marks another step forward in efforts to better connect low- and middle-income housing and the surrounding community. While many developers are responding by offering more affordable units in large residential buildings — whether willingly or as mandated by local law — the concept playing out in Chicago is still relatively uncommon. A similar project replacing the Sunset Park library, in Brooklyn, NY, with 49 units of permanent affordable housing and leasing the ground floor to the library system was approved by local officials on Monday.
Combining housing with another public good can ease some of the financial strain intrinsic to development. In turn, public establishments, like the libraries, become more accessible to the building's tenants and to the surrounding community. What's more, the library's close connection to affordable housing renters allows tenants better access to resources such as early-childhood learning spaces, technology support and social work assistance.
While some experts say co-location can create a better design and living environment for affordable housing and make more efficient use of land, it's unclear whether the practice will catch on. As more municipalities pass legislation to grow their affordable housing stock, cities stand to benefit from combining already needed public development or redevelopment projects with the addition of affordable housing units.