A federal review has completed, paving the way for construction to begin on the Obama Presidential Center in 2021. Planned to span a parcel of land inside Jackson Park, the complex will be located between S Stony Island Avenue and S Cornell Drive, from E 59th Street to E 62nd Street.
Planned by The Obama Foundation, the center will feature multiple buildings. Michael van Valkenburgh Associates will lead the project’s landscape architect team in partnership with Site Design Group and Living Habitats. Meanwhile, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects will work alongside Interactive Design Architects on the project’s architecture.
The first building will be a museum, rising 235 feet in a stone-sheathed tower. Its form is inspired by the idea of four hands coming together, embodying the concept of ascension. The museum will be topped by the Sky Room, a space that will offer visitors views of Lake Michigan, downtown, and the rest of the South Side.
The Forum building will serve as a place to welcome the local community. It will house numerous collaborative and creative spaces, including an auditorium, a broadcast and recording studio, flexible learning and meeting spaces, and a restaurant. Open space will be incorporated into the building to serve as a hub for the public. A public plaza outside of the forum and museum building will be a space to informal and planned gatherings, while featuring public artwork.
A new branch of the Chicago Public Library will be built. It will feature interactive digital media spaces and amenities for children, informational and vocational resources for adults, and a reading room for all to enjoy. The branch will also have a garden on its roof.
The park surrounding the center will offer play areas, walking paths, and a sledding hill, all connected by a long pedestrian promenade that joins the complex to Jackson Park and runs alongside its beautiful and historic lagoons. The fourth main building on the campus will be the program, athletic, and activity center. The facility will be a home for recreation, community programming, and events.
Jackson Park’s historic Women’s Garden will be restored with plantings, pathways, and seating. It will also become more accessible by converting the roads surrounding it back to parkland.
A one-acre wetland area will capture and treat stormwater and feature a Wetland Walk that threads through the area and offers a unique environment with seating, a tree canopy, and a place for children to play. The area will feature seating built out of large stone blocks that can be used for classes, small gatherings, or simply as a spot to stop and enjoy the park.
The Children’s Play Area will feature a giant playground with innovative recreation equipment for children of all ages. The design of the play area celebrates the natural environment of Jackson Park, with lagoon- and woodland-themed features to stir imaginations and encourage exploration. It will offer four seasons of play with plenty of seating and shade for parents and adults.
The Great Lawn is a place for sledding in the winter, picnics in the summer, and to gather for movies in the park. The gentle slope of the site offers opportunities for activities year-round, and it will be the perfect place to get a view of Jackson Park’s beautiful lagoons.
There will be no official Obama Presidential Library in the complex because Obama did not want to be bound by design restrictions, financial requirements, and other rules imposed by the National Archives and Records Administration. The unclassified artifacts, photos, and records from Obama’s eight years in office were transferred to a nondescript building in northwest suburban Hoffman Estates.
With the long-running federal review complete, the first pre-construction utility relocation work for the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park will start in April, with preliminary roadwork and site preparation to begin as early as August. The entire campus is expected to take four years to build.