Obama legacy library architect shortlist revealed

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the sequester after a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House in Washington March 1, 2013. Obama pressed the U.S. Congress on Friday to avoid a government shutdown when federal spending authority runs out on March 27, saying it is the "right thing to do." 

David Adjaye, Renzo Piano and Snøhetta are among the architectural big names in contention to design the Barack Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side.

The facility is the US President’s legacy project. It will feature a museum preserving and making available papers, records, collections and other historical materials from his time in office.

Barack and Michelle Obama will make the final decision on the architect.


After receiving initial declarations of interest from architects between August and September, the Obama Foundation – which is behind the project – has issued a formal request for proposals from the following seven shortlisted studios:

– Adjaye Associates, London, England – Diller Scofidio + Renfro, New York, NY – John Ronan Architects, Chicago, Illinois – Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Genova, Italy – SHoP Architects, New York, NY – Snøhetta, New York, NY – Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, New York, NY

“The Foundation received submissions from an impressive list of architects with a range of styles, expertise, and experience,” said Martin Nesbitt, chairman of the foundation. “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.”


According to architecture critic Lee Bey, who is also a political figure in Chicago, of the seven finalists there isn’t a bad choice.

“This is a very solid stable of architects. All very thoughtful, all inventive, all very good at community engagement, which has to be an important piece of this,” he said.

The responses from the firms will be submitted in the first three months of next year. They must provide a defined, visual proposal for the project, which will either be developed at Jackson Park or a site in Washington Park near the University of Chicago’s campus.

The library – which will be developed in partnership with the University of Chicago and is scheduled to open by 2021 – will take up around 80,000m2 of the site. A surrounding park will be adapted to enhance access for pedestrians and cyclists and other attractions such as urban farms will be created.

A 2014 study by the University of Chicago found the library would draw 800,000 visitors a year, creating 1,900 permanent jobs and generating $220m in annual revenue.

Every president of the US since Herbert Hoover in 1929 has had a centre opened in their honour. The last such project was the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, which was designed by architect Robert Stern and opened in Texas in 2013.

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