Jahn's library dome at U. of C.: Elegant minimalism or self-indulgent object?

Helmut Jahn is either daring or he’s crazy. We’ll know better when the ellipse-shaped glass dome (below) of his planned, mostly-underground library takes its place amid the Collegiate Gothic buildings of the University of Chicago in fall 2010.

It’s not hard to imagine the names that U. of C. students are going to pin on this building. How about the Flamingo Dome, the UFO or the Terrarium? The students are nickname whizzes, having labeled the pink, purple and yellow entry pavilions of the six-year-old Pavlevsky Residential Commons “Barbie, Barney and Big Bird.”

Jahn has had his troubles with domes, of course. Even now, 23 years after his controversial James R. Thompson Center opened, you still hear from state employees that noise from the soaring atrium beneath the center’s truncated dome wafts into the offices around it, making it difficult to concentrate.

But the architect insists that he’s got everything figured out for the library dome, which will sit beside Walter Netsch’s Joseph Regenstein Library near the corner of South Ellis Avenue and East 57th Street.

Roughly 3.5 million volumes will be stored on racks in a climate-controlled underground facility that digs down about 50 feet. The glass dome above it will reach 36 feet high, supported on a curving grid of steel. Ceramic patterns on the glass will block the sun, reducing heat gain.

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600450 Jahn's library dome at U. of C.: Elegant minimalism or self-indulgent object? glassonweb.com

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