$25 million donation to fund new library

By Chris Ross

[img id=”80608″ align=”alignleft”] Joe Mansueto (A.B. ’78, M.B.A. ’80), CEO of Morningstar Inc., and his wife, Rika Mansueto (A.B. ’91), have donated $25 million to the University of Chicago to support the construction of a library that will house up to 3.5 million new volumes on campus.

The donation will be Mansueto’s largest philanthropic venture to date.

The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, designed by acclaimed architect Helmut Jahn, will be built next to the Regenstein Library at the corner of East 57th Street and South Ellis Avenue. Crowned by a steel and glass dome protruding from the ground like a giant bubble, the library’s storage facility will descend 50 feet into the earth. The additional space will make the U of C the only university in the country with the capacity to accommodate its entire academic research facility within campus limits.

“I thought the building had a very striking and bold design and was a very clever solution to the question of how to house 3.5 million volumes,” said Mansueto, who first spoke with President Robert Zimmer about the prospect of funding the project in December 2007.

“I met with Jahn, the architect, and really liked the project and decided to go ahead and give it funding. What appealed to me most was the free exchange of information,” Mansueto said.

The donation is the latest of a number of recent boons for the University’s development office, which since the last academic year has netted several sizable donations to fund ongoing University projects.

In September, Joseph Neubauer, a member of the Board of Trustees, donated $25 million to fund the recruitment of promising young scholars to the University. Last May, the University secured a $35 million gift to fund construction of a new arts center south of the Midway, and the following June received $100 million, the largest donation in the University’s history, from an anonymous donor to support undergraduate financial aid.

According to people familiar with the University’s development efforts, some administrators were disappointed when last month David Rockefeller, who had been courted as a potential major donor, instead elected to give $100 million to his alma mater, Harvard.

University administrators began considering an addition to the Regenstein Library in 2004 as a possibility for dealing with an impending storage space crunch but funding for the project remained a significant concern.

“The project began as an addition, but as we thought about it and worked on the idea we realized it had much more functionality and potential as a building on its own,” said Judith Nadler, director of the University Libraries.

While the recent trend among top research universities such as Yale, Harvard, and Columbia has been to relocate growing academic resources off-campus, Nadler and administrators received a near referendum from the University community to keep all academic resources on campus.

“First, there was a strong, strong request by the faculty to keep volumes here. They felt that was part of what made the University so attractive. Secondly, we had the space to do it,” Nadler said.

Construction on the library, which now carries an estimated price tag of about $80 million, will begin this August and is expected to be completed in the fall of 2010. Featuring an innovative automated system already popular with companies in other industries, such as Ford and General Motors, all volumes will be shelved underground, sorted by size, and retrieved by a robotic arm within minutes of a patron’s request.

The library’s designer, Jahn, of the Chicago-based firm Murphy/Jahn, was selected as the architect in 2006 from a pool of 28 international firms. His past buildings include the Park Avenue Tower in New York, the Hitachi Tower in Singapore, United Airlines Terminal one at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, the Hyatt Regency Roissy in Paris, and the European Union Headquarters in Belgium.

The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library will be used to store materials not typically browsed by scholars and students, such as special collection volumes and texts that have been digitalized in conjunction with the Google Book Search project. A large reading room will sit aboveground beneath an elliptical glass dome extending 35 feet into the air. The smart glass will deflect solar heat gain in the summer, reduce heat loss during colder seasons, and is designed to allow in a level of sunlight appropriate to studying.

“Our options ranged from plans which were very similar to the current feel of campus to ones which were very dissimilar,” Nadler said. “What we wanted was to achieve a balance between old and new. It symbolizes the look and feel and functionality of a research facility as well as a more traditional library.”

Mansueto recalled that many of his own days and nights at the U of C were spent in the library confines.

“I was a pretty serious student,” said Mansueto, who received his undergraduate degree in business administration and his M.B.A. from the Graduate School of Business. “There’s a seriousness and intellectuality to the school.”

An early resident of the Shoreland dorm, Mansueto recalled his involvement in intramural sports; evenings at the local watering hole, Jimmy’s; and the particular personality of the U of C student body.

“I loved the diversity of people at the U of C—a lot of eccentric types. People were interested in your ideas and your logic. It was a kind of meritocracy,” he said. Joe’s wife Rika graduated from the College in 1991 with a degree in anthropology.

The founder, chairman, and CEO of investment research center Morningstar, Inc., Mansueto has made a practice of hiring U of C graduates from both the College and GSB.

“Especially when I was in school, a lot of the U of C kids were very bright, but they didn’t know how to make the transition into the wider world. We were willing to train people who were very bright—but who needed training,” Mansueto said.

“This gift is a way of giving back to the whole community,” he said.