Chicago's public library was finished on budget and almost on time. But many lessons were learned along the way.

To the consternation of its critics, the city settled on a "design/build" competition process for choosing architects and builders for the project. Design/build requires that joint-venture teams of an architectural firm, a developer, a structural engineering firm, and a contractor agree to provide a finished building for a guaranteed cost at a specific time. The goal is to slice time out of the traditional three-stage design-bid-build sequence in public projects.

The city hoped to attract a large group of competitor teams from all over the world, just as the Chicago Tribune Tower competition did in 1922. But the number of responses expected was revised downward from 250 to 50 when it became clear that the constraints of design/build were prohibitive. In the end, only five teams submitted proposals.

Cynthia Weese, president of the Chicago Architectural Club, writes in the journal Competitions that "many firms could not afford the outlay of time and money necessary to develop a scheme to the point where a price for this very complex building could be guaranteed."

The city's library commissioner, John Duff, proclaims the design/build process a resounding success. "There had been criticisms in Chicago of cost overruns for public buildings," he says. In one instance, an executive director of a board was fired by the governor. "We were very anxious to avoid something like that."

When models of the five designs were set up in the Cultural Center, thousands flocked to see them. Though the design by Canadian firm Arthur Erickson & Associates was the public favorite, the jury felt that "it wasn't in keeping with Chicago traditions," Duff says, and selected the Hammond Beeby & Babka design instead.

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