Poetry Foundation – John Ronan

Bringing it back to Chicago now, one of my favorite buildings in the city is a small, unassuming 2-story building in the heart of River North – John Ronan’s Poetry Foundation. The building shields itself from the city, causing an internal reflection, and is essentially poetry in built form with discernable syntax and meaning layered together – all to create a serene space of reflection and study. Great for poetry, right?

The building uses a module grid and regulating lines to create a syntax/language on which the building is constructed – much like poetry uses language. Materiality and spaces are then applied to this syntax, constructing the meaning and affect in the building.

A perforated metal wall shields the building from the surrounding noise of the city, yet allows for visual connectivity. Passing through the threshold of the wall, one finds themselves in an intermediate space – a courtyard. This space is not quite interior, nor quite exterior. The procession into the building and into quiet, internal reflective space both spatially psychologically recalls a poem’s initial grasps at drawing you into the art of language.

Trees placed at random intervals and a side aligned entrance lead you on a journey into the internal spaces of the building and further removes oneself from the bustle of the city, hectic schedules, obligations, etc… Clear glazing and perforated metal allow for visual overlap of city, courtyard, and internal spaces of the building, leaving lines that are clearly marked yet ambiguous all the same.

Inside, a serene building allows for the study of poetry. Common materials are used in exquisite and unexpected ways to create beautiful moments within the design. Crushed stone as wall base? Nailed it. It is such an interesting detail between the polished concrete and gypsum board clad walls – almost a disintegration of the concrete as it meets the wall. Or, potentially, a separation of one of the “words” that come together to create concrete, showing off the syntax that creates the whole. Either way, it’s one of my favorite details.

I highly recommend any fan of architecture to visit this building – it is a great representation of John Ronan’s work keeping in with his interests in materiality without going into the almost supergraphic nature of some of his work with various schools and the South Shore Drill Team. I prefer this building, his upcoming one at IIT, and so on to the Comer Academy and Christ the King. The projects shine when they let materiality speak. It will be interesting to see his CHA/CPL competition entry evolve as it goes through design development (ok, still a little upset we (LBBA and Design with Co.) lost to him) and to see which of Ronan’s design paths it will follow.

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Josh Mings

Architect and painter. Columbus, IN born, New Orleans educated, Chicago living and trying to leave the world better than I found it.