Architects reveal hints of Obama Center’s ‘non-traditional’ design

obama center plan
A map showing the Obama Presidential Center’s initial plan (

After nearly six months of secrecy, the architectural team behind the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park finally gave the public a glimpse of their updated design during the first international summit of the Obama Foundation held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel, Oct. 30 to Nov. 1.

According to Chicago Tribune columnist Blair Kamin, husband and wife architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien did not offer any new renderings. Instead, they shared details about their three-building complex design consisting of a tower, a forum building and a library, as well as additions to their initial plan.

The obelisk-like tower will feature a public space on its top floor with views of the University of Chicago’s gothic spires, Lake Michigan and the surrounding city. In the tower’s midsection will be a multi-level museum open only for visitors who purchase tickets.

Outside, the architects said that Barack Obama requested an outdoor plaza in the center of the complex. A fourth building has been added to the initial design. To the south of the main cluster, an athletic center will house athletic facilities such as a basketball court, a yoga studio and a room for yoga classes.

Other additions include a recording studio in the forum building that aims to become a “place of creative expression” for visitors; an outdoor garden that resembles Michelle Obama’s White House garden; and a test kitchen that will educate the public about “the full production cycle of nutritious food.”

The two controversial aspects of the Obama Center’s design were also addressed by Williams: a two-story parking garage and the museum tower’s proposed height of 160 to 180 ft. Open space advocates criticized both as intrusions on the landscape of the park.

Williams said that the garage could be “pressed further into the ground.” He also said that the garage could be moved away from the park, to the east of Stony Island Ave. As for the tower, he pointed out that their team have already done 30 studies about the structure. He did not provide any elaboration.

The project is expected to break ground in 2018 and open in 2021.


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