Obama Library Center design competition draws 140 architecture firms

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Washington Park is one of the sites proposed for Barack Obama’s presidential library. | Sun-Times file photo

WASHINGTON – The Barack Obama Foundation said Friday that 140 architecture firms asked to be in the running to design the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago, so many that the early 2016 target date for selection will have to be extended.

The firms delivered submissions to the Foundation “Request for Qualifications” by the Wednesday deadline.

The Foundation said 99 of the firms were based in the U.S. with “many” from Chicago.

The competition to design what will be Chicago’s newest landmark is now global. The submissions to design a building to house the Obama library, museum, foundation, meeting rooms and related outdoor space came from 60 cities in 25 countries.

The Foundation expects the field to be cut to a short list of fewer than 10 finalists, who will be asked to respond to still-to-be-released “Request for Proposals.” The original late fall target to create a short list will be pushed back by weeks or months.

A Foundation spokesman said that given the number of responses, “we are reviewing” the self-imposed early 2016 deadline for President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle to select an architect.

The Obamas last May picked the South Side for their center, with a decision to put it in either Jackson or Washington parks to come later – after an architect is picked and economic studies completed. Each of the the parks is near their Kenwood home and the University of Chicago, whose winning bid proposed the park sites.

“We are pleased to see such a high level of interest in the design of the Obama Presidential Center from so many highly qualified architecture firms,” said Obama Foundation Chairman Martin Nesbitt in a statement.

“This Center will be the headquarters for the post-presidential activities of President Obama, and we are looking forward to thoughtfully reviewing each firm’s submission,” Nesbitt said.

When the Foundation issued the RFQ on Aug. 26, it was distributed to a select group of firms. The Foundation declined to release the number of firms asked to submit their qualifications, but sources told the Sun-Times the list included more than three dozen.

However, since the RFQ was posted on the Foundation website, more firms decided to jump in the contest even if they were not recruited.

“We cast a pretty broad net; just so many qualified potential respondents. It was distributed pretty broadly,” Nesbitt told reporters on Aug. 26.

In a letter Nesbitt wrote to the invited architects, he said “a Presidential Center is the single most visible symbol of the legacy and aspirations of the President whose name it bears.”

The Foundation has been working with design and architecture experts and consultants for months.The Sun-Times earlier reported the firms asked to apply included:

*From Chicago: Perkins + Will; Jeanne Gang, Helmut Jahn and an office of the Chicago based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

*From New York: Ennead Architects LLP, the firm that designed the Clinton Library and Museum in Little Rock and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the firm whose New York projects include the redesign of the Lincoln Center and the High Line. In 1999, the Chicago based MacArthur Foundation, awarded “genius grants” to founders Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio.

*Also: The London-based Adjaye Associates, with the glassy design of David Adjaye’s National Museum of African American History and Culture now taking shape on the National Mall in Washington.

Groundbreaking for the Obama Center will not take place until after Obama leaves office in January 2017. Nesbitt has said the center would be open for business at the earliest in 2020.

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