The Obama Foundation Has Just Unveiled a New Set of Renderings of the Presidential Center

by Robert Nathan

Tod Williams and Billie Tsien respond to previous criticism of the project with their latest designs

Following some back-and-forth on the project, the Obama Foundation has just released a new set of renderings for the Obama Presidential Center, a roughly $500 million four-building complex in Chicago. When it opens in a few years—it’s set to break ground in 2020—in Jackson Park on the city’s South Side, the Presidential Center will be home to a museum, a public gathering space, a new branch of the Chicago Public Library, an athletic center, and a large plaza. Designed by New York–based architectural firm Tod Williams Billie Tsien, the latest iteration of the project further refines last year’s changes to the central museum building, which had been criticized by some as severe and foreboding.

In this iteration, the building “embodies the idea of ascension,” and is “inspired by the idea of four hands coming together; a recognition that many hands shape a place,” according to the Obama Foundation website. This version of the design also features an 88-foot tall glass cutout that invites one to gaze into the building from the outside, which will “emit a soft, welcoming glow.”

Some of the finer details of the museum’s design are also starting to come into focus. The tower’s southwest corner will “likely display a quotation from an Obama speech that stressed the theme of unity,” Williams and Tsien told the Chicago Tribune . They’ve also homed in on American granite for the façade, which will help to lighten the structure and introduce visual patterns that are more dynamic that than other materials would offer.

In addition to a new museum building, the new renderings also reveal the center’s on-site environmental stewardship. There will be a one-acre Wetland Walk, which will capture and treat stormwater while creating a winding path through the park’s environment. The project will also restore and update Jackson Park’s existing Women’s Garden, which encircles the sunken lawn.

Given the 19.3-acre complex’s location within a historic park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the Obama Foundation has turned to the local community to make sure they get it right. “We’ve spent the past few years talking with the community and meeting with neighbors and stakeholders to incorporate their input,” Obama Foundation CEO David Simas said in a press release. “In response to the feedback we received, we’re presenting updates that create even more ways for the community to enjoy what will become an important and memorable gathering place.”

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