Obama Foundation chooses architects for presidential center

obama architects

The Obama Foundation has announced that it has selected the NYC-based architectural team of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners (TWBTA) and Interactive Design Architects (IDEA) from Chicago to lead the effort to design the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s mid-South Side. The foundation says the center will include a library holding the presidential archives, a museum focusing on the Obama Presidency and issues of our time, and space for programs and initiatives that advance its public mission.

The foundation issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) on Dec. 21, 2015 to seven architectural firms, who were chosen from more than 140 firms worldwide who had originally submitted qualifications.

TWBTA, based in New York, and IDEA, a Chicago firm founded almost 25 years ago, will lead a multi-disciplinary and wide-ranging design and engineering effort that may ultimately include as many as 15-20 other firms engaged in various specialty areas all crucial to the center’s design. The Obama Foundation will manage the design and construction of the library with a project management team that will be named later.

“Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners stood out in their commitment to exploring, together with the foundation, the best ways of creating an innovative center for action that inspires communities and individuals to take on our biggest challenges,” Obama Foundation chair Martin Nesbitt said in a statement. “Interactive Design Architects brings local knowledge and a track record for delivering excellence to large, complex civic projects.”

“We were extremely impressed by each of the proposals from the seven firms and thank them for their passion, effort, resources and time throughout this process,” he said.

“We are delighted to begin work with Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners and Interactive Design Architects on the design phase of the Obama Presidential Center. Tod and Billie’s past projects display an incredible commitment to scale, craft and materiality, and their proposal demonstrated an equally genuine commitment to also carefully balance an understanding and respect for the history and potential of the South Side, the Olmstead and Vaux-designed park setting and Chicago’s overall architectural legacy,” said Robbin Cohen, executive director of the Obama Foundation. “Together with these two firms, we look forward to building a Center that is a place for ever-evolving, innovative programming.”

“We are deeply moved by the mission of the Obama Foundation and the role the center can play in empowering that mission. It is a joy, an honor, and a responsibility to create a place that reflects the optimism and integrity of the president and the first lady. This has been a transformative presidency and we will work to make a center that embodies and expands the Obamas’ vision. We look forward to collaborating with our partners, Interactive Design Architects, and to working with the South Side community,” said Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners.

“It’s a remarkable opportunity to work with the Obama Foundation and to partner with Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners on the design for the Obama Presidential Center. As a native Chicagoan and resident of the South Side, this project is deeply meaningful to me and I could not be more excited. To play a role in a project that will have such a transformative impact on the community and the wider world is a dream come true,” said Dina Griffin, president of Interactive Design Architects.

The Obama Foundation is currently considering two sites for the library, Jackson Park and Washington Park on the South Side.

Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners

Tod Williams and Billie Tsien founded their New York-based firm in 1986. Paul Schulhof joined their studio in 1999 and became the firm’s third partner in 2013. Their studio — by choice — designs only institutional, academic, civic, and residential work. They were awarded the 2013 National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama. Noteworthy work designed by Williams and Tsien include The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago, the Asia Society Center in Hong Kong, and the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California. They are currently designing the United States Embassy complex in Mexico City, Mexico.

Interactive Design Architects

Interactive Design Architects is a Minority-owned Business Enterprise and Women-owned Business Enterprise certified architecture design firm founded in Chicago in 1992 emphasizing listening, creativity, discernment and versatility to realize client goals. IDEA excels working with multi-layered and multi-talented stakeholder groups, effectively engaging all investors, acknowledging divergent inspirations and imagining new potentials while facilitating consensus. Their ongoing relationships with large, layered organizations such as the Art Institute of Chicago well illustrate their capacity for inclusive, participative and responsive architecture.

Image: From left: Charlie Young, IDEA; Dina Griffin, IDEA; Billie Tsien, TWBTA; Tod Williams, TWBTA; Bob Larsen, IDEA; Paul Schulhof, TWBTA (photo from Obama Foundation)


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