Obama Presidential Center Clears Final Hurdle

John Hill
5. February 2021
Image courtesy of the Obama Foundation

As announced by the Obama Foundation on February 3rd, the years-long federal review process of plans to build the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park on Chicago's South Side is complete, meaning the project will break ground later this year.

The announcement was accompanied by a short video message from President Barack Obama that, among other things, addresses some of the concerns that led to the prolonged review, namely the historic importance of publicly owned Jackson Park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the years leading up to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. (A lawsuit from Protect Our Park opposing the OPC's construction in the park was dismissed in 2019.) He says:

"Through this process, we’ve shown that our plans for the Obama Presidential Center — including new gardens, playgrounds, walking trails, and bike paths for all to enjoy — won’t just preserve historic Jackson Park, they’ll bring opportunity and breathe new life into the community we love."

The cost of the building, designed by New York's Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects with Chicago's Interactive Design Architects, inclusive of the landscaping designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, is estimated at $500 million. The Obama Foundation is financing the entire building construction and maintenance, handing the project over to the City of Chicago once it's complete, which should be in 2025, based on an anticipated four years of construction.

Although it will not contain a presidential library, as is customary for American presidents (it will be completely digital instead), the OPC will house a presidential museum, facilities for the Obama Foundation, a branch of the Chicago Public Library, a multi-purpose community space, a lookout at the top of the museum tower, and gathering and play spaces in the landscape, which continues over some of the project's buildings.

The design by the TWBTA-led team has evolved since its 2017 unveiling, but consistent features have included a tower element with angled walls, breaking the project into smaller parts, arranging those parts around a courtyard, and capping the lower buildings with plantings. The most recent renderings we featured were released in October 2019; those same renderings still populate the OPC page on the Obama Foundation website, giving a clear indication of what Chicagoans and visitors to Chicago should expect when the project is done roughly four years from now.

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