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WASHINGTON — Only one Chicago architectural firm is among the seven finalists the Barack Obama Foundation announced to design the Obama Presidential Center, to be located in Jackson Park or Washington Park on the city’s South Side.

Chicago’s John Ronan Architects was invited to the next stage of the competition, along with some of the highest-profile firms in the world: four based in New York; one in London and another in Genoa, Italy.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle picked the seven firms to advance to the finals.

The architectural direction the Obamas’ want to take for their center is now clear: All seven on the list are considered “modernists.” Their designs are characterized by clean, rectilinear and angular forms and the generous use of steel and glass.

The first couple will personally meet with the lead architects from each firm before making a decision, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Four of the seven firms have designed or are in the process of creating major projects in Chicago, a city known around the globe for its sweeping, innovative and significant architecture.

The seven finalists were selected after the Obamas personally reviewed the design entries and evaluated additional information provided to them by the foundation and their design advisers. That team performed its own due diligence and evaluation of the contenders — including, in some cases, office visits.

In addition to having modernism in common, the seven finalists are not giant firms and they’re very much molded by the personalities of the principals.

The foundation said in a statement that while the contest is “not a design competition,” the contenders will be required to submit “defined, visual responses” to “present creative ideas in response to the Foundation’s project goals.”

In 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 seven survived to the end.

OPINION


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Last May, the Obamas picked the South Side for their center, with a decision to put it in either Jackson Park or Washington Park to come later – after an architect is picked and economic studies are completed.

Both parks are near the Obamas’ Kenwood home and the University of Chicago; its winning bid proposed the park sites.

On Monday, the foundation issued a document called a “Request for Proposal” to the finalists, who, the Sun-Times confirmed, were all invitees to the design competition. While the RFQ, released last August, was posted on the foundation website, the RFP is under wraps.

The firms’ responses to the RFP must cover both parks, the foundation said.

According to the RFQ, the Obama center will include an “interactive and immersive” museum, a library, foundation offices, space to house programs, including outdoor performances, a “presidential suite” for the Obamas and healthy dining facilities.

The finalists are:

• John Ronan Architects, 420 W. Huron. The firm’s designs include the Gary Comer Youth Center, 7200 S. Ingleside Ave; 151 N. Franklin; and Gary Comer College Prep, 7131 S. South Chicago Ave. Last May, Ronan was named the architect for the Illinois Institute of Technology Innovation Center on its historic South Side main campus, designed by famed architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

“I’m honored to be considered to work with the Obama Foundation on such an important project for both Chicago and the world,” Ronan told the Sun-Times.

• Adjaye Associates, London. David Adjaye is enjoying global fame as his work is the subject of a retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago. He is the lead designer of the National Museum of African American History and Culture rising on the National Mall, scheduled to open before Obama leaves office in January 2017.

• Diller Scofidio + Renfro, New York. Partners Elizabeth Diller, Ricardo Scofidio and Charles Renfro were selected last October by the University of Chicago to design the David M. Rubenstein Forum, to be located at the southeast corner of Woodlawn Avenue and 60th Street, its first building in Chicago. The Rubenstein building, to be on the Midway, is near both Washington and Jackson parks.

The firm also designed the High Line in New York. In 1999, the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation awarded Diller and Scofidio “genius” fellowships.

• Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Genoa, Italy. Renzo Piano designed Chicago’s Art Institute Modern Wing, which opened in 2009 across from Millennium Park. Piano won the 1998 Pritzker Architecture Prize, modeled after the Nobel Prize and founded by the late Jay Pritzker and his wife, Cindy, members of Chicago’s Pritzker family.

• SHoP Architects, New York. The principals are Christopher Sharples, Coren Sharples, Gregg Pasquarelli, Kimberly Holden, and William Sharples. The firm designed the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and is working on the design for the new Uber headquarters in San Francisco.

• Snøhetta, New York. The firm, founded in Norway, is run by Craig Dykers and his wife Elaine Molinar. Snøhetta was awarded the Mies van der Rohe Prize in 2009 for the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet. Snøhetta designed the National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion.

• Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, New York. Obama awarded Williams and Tsien the 2013 National Medal of Arts, recognizing them “for their contributions to architecture and arts education.” The pair designed the University of Chicago’s Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., which opened in 2012.

The Sun-Times earlier confirmed through several sources that among the firms invited to compete in the first round were, from Chicago: Perkins + Will; Jeanne Gang, Helmut Jahn and an office of the Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. New York contenders included Ennead Architects LLP, the firm that designed the Clinton Library and Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“The Foundation received submissions from an impressive list of architects with a range of styles, expertise, and experience,” Obama Foundation chair Martin Nesbitt said in a statement.

“These finalists offer a variety of backgrounds and styles, and any one of them would be an excellent choice. We are excited to see this process moving forward because the Obama Presidential Center will be so much more than a library – this facility will seek to inspire citizens across the globe to better their communities, their countries, and their world,” he said.

The final architect selection is expected in the second quarter of 2016.

In a November City Club of Chicago speech, Nesbitt said a decision on whether the Obama Presidential Center will be in Washington Park or Jackson Park and the selection of an architect is taking longer than originally than expected. The center is expected to be completed sometime in 2020.

Among the foundation advisers is Paul Goldberger, the former New York Times and New Yorker architecture critic.

Of the 140 submissions in September, 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 attracted firms from 60 cities in 25 countries.

The foundation also will establish a presence in New York and Hawaii, where the Obama family is now vacationing and where Nesbitt earlier this year purchased a home.

Washington and Jackson parks were designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, and park preservation groups objected to locating the Obama center in either of them. Those protests ended up fading.

The foundation and White House staffers have been consulting with the Obamas to chart how their legacy will be portrayed in the Obama Presidential Center and the projects they will want to embrace once they leave the White House in January 2017. Obama has already said that he will be working on myriad interrelated issues dealing with violence, race and criminal justice in his post-presidency.

Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @LynnSweet


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John Ronan Architects is the only Chicago-based firm picked as a finalist in the competition to design the Obama Presidential Center. Ronan's work includes the Gary Comer Youth Center (shown). | Sun-Times library

John Ronan Architects is the only Chicago-based firm picked as a finalist in the competition to design the Obama Presidential Center. Ronan’s work includes the Gary Comer Youth Center (shown). | Sun-Times library

Chicago architect John Ronan. | Sun-Times library

Chicago architect John Ronan. | Sun-Times library

Architect David Adjaye. | Ed Reeve photo, courtesy of Adjaye Associates.

Architect David Adjaye. | Ed Reeve photo, courtesy of Adjaye Associates.

The Art Institute's Modern Wing designed by architect Renzo Piano. | Sun-Times library

The Art Institute’s Modern Wing designed by architect Renzo Piano. | Sun-Times library

Architect Renzo Piano with Mayor Richard Daley. | Sun-Times library

Architect Renzo Piano with Mayor Richard Daley. | Sun-Times library

The pavilion entrance to the National September 11 Memorial Museum designed by Snøhetta, New York architecture firm. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

The pavilion entrance to the National September 11 Memorial Museum designed by Snøhetta, New York architecture firm. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Logan Center for the Arts, designed by architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, on the University of Chicago campus. | Sun-Times library

Logan Center for the Arts, designed by architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, on the University of Chicago campus. | Sun-Times library