The new home of the Poetry Foundation, located in the River North neighborhood of Chicago, is comprised of a building in dialogue with a garden. The garden space is created through erosion of an implied volume as described by the L-shaped property boundary of the site, resulting in a relationship whereby the building the enclosed building spaces interlock with the exterior spaces of the garden. In this manner, the garden is implied as another “room” of the building, and part of the building’s slowly-unfolding spatial sequence, which is revealed space by space as a poem is revealed, line by line.
Visitors reach the building by walking through the garden, which is a conceived of as an urban sanctuary, a space that mediates between the street and the building, blurring the hard distinctions between public and private. Upon entering the garden, visitors perceive the double height library space that borders the garden, announcing that they are entering into a literary environment. Inside the building, an exhibition gallery connects the library to the poetry reading room where poets read their work to an audience against the backdrop of the garden.
Public functions-the poetry reading room, a gallery, and library-are located on the building’s ground floor, while offices space are located on the second level, organized into three areas corresponding to operations (foundation administration, Poetry magazine/website staff, and programs staff). The building’s internal arrangement is configured to allow for views from all spaces back out onto the garden.
Tectonically, the building is conceived of as a series of layers that visitors move through and between. The layers, of zinc, glass, and wood, peel apart to define the various programmatic zones of the building. The building’s outer layer, a cladding 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 it serves to internalize the garden experience and provide a sense of removal to prepare visitors mentally for the experience inside.
Poetry Foundation, Chicago, USA, by John Ronan Architects