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ProNet Client Project Profile: Poetry Foundation Headquarters – Chicago, IL

Since its June 2011 completion, the new Poetry Foundation Headquarters in the River North district of Chicago, designed by a/e ProNet client John Ronan Architects, has turned quite a few heads. First, it received a glowing write-up in the Architectural Record:

“In keeping with the art form it serves, the new Poetry Foundation is a respectful, restrained building that employs an economy of means and methods, just as a good poem employs an economy of language.”

Then, earlier this month, the graceful, angular building received the Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects. While this could be simply another feather in the hat of the prestigious Chicago architect, John Ronan continues to hold fast to the basic integrity at the foundation of his practice. In a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune, Ronan pointed out, “There’s sort of an ethical imperative when you’re doing public architecture to serve the public and not your own ego. Where do you want to put that money: on geometry, a weird shape, or put it [into interior] spaces?”

The following is an excerpt from the Jan. 15 Chicago Tribune profile of Ronan, a piece entitled Rising star John Ronan has risen:

“Last week was a good one for Ronan. His Poetry Foundation building, an austere but richly layered modernist design at 61 W. Superior St., won a prestigious Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects. And his South Shore International College Prep High School, at 75th Street and Jeffery Boulevard, was splashed across four pages of the January issue of Architectural Record magazine. Meanwhile, he’s leading the search committee for a new architecture school dean at the Illinois Institute of Technology.”

Anyone can see that the client is happy, too. In its official press release regarding the design award, the Poetry Foundation also likened Ronan’s design to a poem:

“Designed by the Chicago firm John Ronan Architects, the building, which includes 22,000 square feet of interior space and a nearly 4,000-square-foot public garden, takes its cues from the art form it represents. Like a poem that invites multiple readings, the space encourages repeat visits, revealing itself slowly over time.”

As in the appraisal of any kind of magic, it is difficult to measure the success of architecture. Certainly, every building has its measurable characteristics: functionality, a publicly pleasing aesthetic, green materials (per the Poetry Foundation HQ press release, the new structure is “built to comply with the US Green Building Council’s Silver Level LEED Rating System”). But beyond that, one must consider the measure of the intangible.

In this case, Ronan’s client believes the new structure accomplishes what Poetry Magazine founder Harriet Monroe’s original vision for her publication was in 1912, “A modest effort to give to poetry her own place.” We congratulate John Ronan Architects for all of these achievements.