Our Pledge To You

News

Obamas close to selecting architects for presidential center

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

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle’s selection of an architect for their Obama Center in Chicago now is only weeks away, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned, with the first couple reviewing design proposals on Sunday.

The Obamas and key staffers from their Obama Foundation spent most of the afternoon in downtown Washington considering the proposals from architectural firms in the running to design a museum, library and foundation offices on Chicago’s South Side.

Marty Nesbitt, chairman of the Obama Foundation; Robbin Cohen, the executive director; and Roark Frankel, the real estate specialist who is the foundation director of planning and construction were at the meeting, the Sun-Times confirmed with a foundation official.

The Obamas already met in person with the seven lead architects who are finalists for the coveted commission.

The White House said in a statement only that the president and first lady are “meeting with foundation staff to review architecture and design proposals for the Obama Presidential Center.”

The Sunday session was to take a closer look at the ideas and concepts presented to the Obamas, who almost one year ago, on May 12, 2015, announced the South Side of Chicago as the future home of the center.

Still to be determined is whether the center will be located in Jackson Park or Washington Park. Before deciding, the foundation and the Obamas want input from the architect and specialists who have been conducting economic studies relating to the two sites.

Last September, the foundation said 140 architecture firms submitted responses to its “Request for Qualifications,” a mix of about three dozen elite “starchitects” invited to compete, and others who read the RFQ on the foundation website and sent in proposals on the gamble they could make the cut. The list got chopped to about 30, and the seven finalists were announced last December.

The only Chicago firm in the contest is John Ronan Architects. The others are Adjaye Associates, London; Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Genoa, Italy; and from New York, Diller Scofidio + Renfro; SHoP Architects, Snøhetta and Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects.