Harold Washington Library Center

Libraries aren’t just housing for books — they’re homes for imagination. The new Thomas Hughes Children’s Library is one such place: a lively, state-of-the-art learning environment designed to delight children and families from all over Chicago. It’s also a test case and example, destined to become the template for adaptable, public children’s spaces as its design aesthetic is rolled out to branches across the Illinois Public Library system.

Runway for the Curious

For a child, imagination can transform a space into just about anything. The floor can be a pristine meadow that their favorite book character meanders through, or a dangerous lava field to be avoided at all costs.

A children’s library, however, will forever have one goal: to inspire a love of learning and foster a safe space for creativity and imagination to bloom. The way that goal is achieved though, has shifted over the last 20 years. As library funding and revenues have decreased — in some parts of the U.S. by more than 20% — these vital spaces have been transformed, forced to become more versatile out of necessity. No longer simply quiet places to pick out and read a favorite book, children’s libraries have evolved into dynamic, multifunction community spaces programmed to facilitate all types of learning and activity.

As what’s truly demanded of these spaces has emerged, so has a need for adaptable, affordable design that can continue to shift with the library as its goals do. All of this change calls for equally dynamic flooring that can stand up to everyday wearand-tear while serving as a launch pad for imagination.

In response to this economic and cultural transformation, the Thomas Hughes Children’s Library was designed as a prototype of a new breed of active learning space – one all of Chicago’s library locations will eventually be modeled after. And we were proud to be a part of this landmark renovation, working with a moderate budget and employing lots of strategic thought to get the most bang for the library system’s buck.

Home of Imagination

Conceived under the Chicago Public Library’s vision as a “home of the curious,” Harold Washington’s space begins with the concept of an empty box — the idea that a child will transform their own environment according to their individual curiosities and interests, effectively shifting kids from spectator to active participant in their own education.

To support the empty box approach, furnishings were selected to foster creativity, including the flooring, which provides solid ground for whatever activity may arise, from puppet shows or energetic whispering to computer work. Here, the ground is hardly an afterthought: bright and textural, it’s visually stimulating, an exciting backdrop for inspired learning.



Chicago, Illinois, USA

Design Firm



Public Sector
  • Government
  • Collection

    Color At Work

    Products Used

    saturate tile
    achromatic tile
    duotone tile

    Case Study