Seven Architects in Running for Obama Presidential Center

John Hill
21. December 2015
Photo: Courtesy of The Barack Obama Foundation

Today the Barack Obama Foundation issued RFPs (Requests for Proposal) to seven potential architects to design the future Obama Presidential Center (OPC) on Chicago's South Side.

Following an international RFQ (Request for Qualifications) issued in August that yielded 140 architects submitting from 25 countries, the Obama Foundation has narrowed its list down to seven architects:
 

  • Adjaye Associates, London, England
  • Diller Scofidio + Renfro, New York, NY
  • John Ronan Architects, Chicago, Illinois
  • Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Genova, Italy
  • SHoP Architects, New York, NY
  • Snøhetta, New York, NY
  • Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, New York, NY

Only one of the seven architects (Ronan) is from Obama's hometown of Chicago (Jeanne Gang's firm is a glaring omission), with four of the remaining six from New York and the other two of the shortlisted architects from overseas. All previous presidential libraries have been designed by American firms, so if the commission were given, for example, to David Adjaye (an African-born architects based in London who is an odds-on favorite for the project), he'd be the first foreign architect to do so.

Although Ronan is the only Chicago-based architect (he has done most of his primarily institutional work in the Windy City), most of the rest have ties to Chicago in one form or another: Adjaye is the subject of a major retrospective now on display at the Art Institute; both DS+R and TWBTA have projects at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park near the site of the OPC; and Renzo Piano designed the Modern Wing at the Art Institute, which opened in 2009. That leaves SHoP Architects and Snøhetta, though the latter has extensive library experience, and the former, in the statement from the Obama Foundation, is recognized for projects in Brooklyn, Botswana and San Francisco.

Although the shortlist has been defined, the Obama Foundation has not yet selected one of the two sites the City of Chicago is offering for the OPC. Therefore, the seven architects will be doing double duty on their RFPs, having to submit proposals for the Jackson Park and Washington Park sites (images below), both of which flank the University of Chicago in Hyde Park.

Although explicitly defined as "not a design competition" per the statement, "visual proposals" for the OPC will be submitted the first quarter of 2016 with the architect of the OPC announced shortly thereafter.

Jackson Park site (Image: Obama Foundation, RFQ)
Washington Park site (Image: Obama Foundation, RFQ)

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