With tower cranes now installed and foundation work well underway, the planned Obama Presidential Center is approaching vertical construction in Jackson Park. Planned by The Obama Foundation, the three-building master plan will house a museum revolving around the former president and his legacy, a community center known as The Forum, and a new branch of the Chicago Public Library. There will also be a parking garage directly to the south.
Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and Interactive Design Architects are behind the architectural component of the development, while Michael van Valkenburgh Associates, Site Design Group, and Living Habitats are responsible for the landscape architecture.
The museum portion will be the tallest building in the complex by far, measuring 235 feet in height. This edifice will be clad in a tan stone facade, embedded with curtain wall glazing and a metal mesh containing the following quote:
“You are America. Unconstrained by habit and convention. Unencumbered by what is, ready to seize what ought to be. For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, there is new ground to cover, there are more bridges to be crossed. America is not the project of any one person. The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We The People.’ ‘We Shall Overcome.’ ‘Yes We Can.’ That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.”
The museum tower will house artifacts relating to Obama’s presidency and the years building up to his terms in office. As indicated by an open request on the center’s website, relevant categories for such pieces may include items relating to climate change and environmentalism, criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights, disability rights, and military service members, veterans, and their families. At the pinnacle of the stacked frustum structure will be a Sky Room observatory with 360-degree views of Jackson Park, Hyde Park, Downtown, and the lake.
The second building in the scheme includes The Forum, meant to serve as a community hub for the surrounding neighborhood. Interior programming will include an auditorium, a recording and broadcasting studio, a meeting and activity center, as well as a restaurant (tenant yet to be determined).
The third and final occupiable building will be a new Chicago Library branch, which will accommodate informational and vocational resources, play spaces and digitally interactive areas for children, and a rooftop garden area.
As for the landscape architecture, visitors will find a myriad of outdoor areas meant to stitch the Obama Presidential Center into the fabric of Jackson Park. The site will integrate various play spaces, walking paths, a sledding hill, and a pedestrian promenade.
Not only will the center closely connect with Jackson Park and the surrounding community, but also Chicago’s public transit network. Buses for Routes 2, 6, 15, and 28 can all be accessed from the adjacent S Stoney Island Avenue intersection, while other buses within a 10-minute walking radius include Routes 10, 55, 59, and 171. The Metra is also within walking distance, available at the University of Chicago/59th Street station via a five-minute walk northeast.
The massive $700 million build is being carried by Lakeside Alliance, a joint venture of companies that includes Brown & Momen, Inc., Powers & Sons Construction Company, Safeway Construction Company, UJAMAA Construction Inc., and Turner Construction Company. A full completion and opening has been penned for 2025.
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VERY UGLY BUILDING…WHAT A SHAME….!
Todd Williams and Billie Tsien have designed some splendid buildings – but this isn’t one of them. Driven by the ego (see his quote that he deems worthy to be emblazoned on the wall of the thing) of an ex-President who occasionally seemed to be reasonable, thanks to the very low bars set by his predecessor and successor, the structure and particularly the siting are insults to Chicago.
The critical naysayers are out long before the construction is approaching finality. It should be a major asset for the South Side. I will wait to make any commentary on its design. Am somewhat disappointed with the location choice instead of Washington Park.