Mansueto rising

Scaffolding.jpgLike the tiers of a wedding cake, scaffolding has appeared over the big hole in the ground that will soon become the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library. Built to facilitate construction of the library’s elliptical glass dome, the structure went up in late April.

Over the next four months, passers-by will be able to watch as the library's distinctive oval dome takes shape. First, a high-strength steel and aluminum grid will rise from the foundation up. When the grid is in place August 1, glass panels will be installed from top to bottom.

When I visited the work site recently, a tall crane swung bundles of sleek, silver tubing from a truck to the ground. The tubing was made in the Czech Republic and delivered directly to Chicago. To create the grid, workers will bolt together more than 700 six-foot tubes and nodes, "like a giant erector set," explained Michael Natarus, senior project manager. Special tools have been manufactured just to put the components together.

Seele.jpgAlthough Helmut Jahn designed the library, the current phase reflects the genius of architect and structural engineer Werner Sobek. "He takes Helmut’s ideas and does the structural calculations," says Natarus. Following Sobek’s specifications, Seele, the German company hired to build the library dome, recently did a successful test-run of the grid assembly at its plant near Augsburg. The pieces are designed to fit "within a tenth of a millimeter," said Tobias Karnagel, site manager. That level of precision is unusual, but necessary for ensuring that the frame will bear the weight of the glass.

Seele did steel-and-glass construction for the new U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, DC; high-profile Apple Stores in New York City and around the world; and many other projects. Two workmen on the Mansueto crew helped assemble Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate in Millennium Park, but according to Natarus, "nobody has worked on anything like this before."

Underground.jpgBelow ground, work on the library is also progressing. When Natarus led me down into the vast, five-story-deep cavern that will eventually house an automated storage and retrieval system for 3.5 million volumes, the massive scale of the project hit home. The space, now mostly empty, is gargantuan. I felt like a tiny flea in the bottom of a deep, dark mixing bowl.

But the giant oval won’t be empty much longer. Fireproofing, duct work, and construction of a corridor to the Regenstein Library are moving forward. Air-handling units, which will maintain the temperature and humidity in the book stacks, have already been delivered. A concrete slab now separates the Mansueto basement from the ground floor, the future home of a sunny reading room. And the dome is expected to be finished this fall.

Elizabeth Station

Library scaffolding (top, photo by Cheryl Rusnak); workers conduct test assembly of steel grid in Germany (middle, photo copyright Seele); construction is well underway below ground (bottom, photo by John Pitcher). For more images, click here.


Mansueto WebCam

May 3, 2010