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Poetry Foundation Christens New Headquarters

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jun 24, 2011 4:00PM

After four years of planning, over a year of construction and at a total cost of $21.5 million, the Poetry Foundation's new headquarters is ready for its closeup.

The John Ronan-designed building at 61 W. Superior was dedicated yesterday and the Foundation's Open House begins tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. At 22,000 square-feet with a 4,000 square-foot garden designed by landscape architect Reed Hilderbrand, the new headquarters is designed specifically with poetry in mind while keeping with Ronan's philosophy of "spatial narrative."

"There's no right way to look at a poem," said Poetry Foundation Media Director Stephanie Hlywak. "John was able to work with foundation to fit our needs and be an architectural representation of a poem. You can see into multiple spaces at once."

Ronan designed the building to encourage multiple visits. "I try to design every project this way" he said via email. "It leads to a richer spatial experience." The incorporation of glass separating the garden from the main floor of the building gives a sense of tranparency from outdoors to indoors, while the concrete floor of the garden continues into the common areas of the building, providing a continuation of the complex from one space to the next.

"I wanted the public spaces to have the sense that they were also part of the garden," Ronan said. Gravel trenches inside the main floor and at the base of the Foundation's library shelves define the perimeter of the garden slab.

Hlywak told us the Foundation's performance room is a first-of-its kind space designed specifically for poetry readings. It was acoustically designed so that poets' and performers' voices can carry to the far reaches of the space, while no noise from the outside can disrupt the performances. Ronan said this was one of the major design challenges of the project, "while also giving people in the garden a view from the performance space while maintaining acoustical isolation from outside noise." The Foundation also has acoustically sound rooms for reading and their podcast recording.

The Poetry Foundation's open house begins tomorrow at 9 a.m.