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Obama Library Plan at Michael Reese Site Aims to Put Bronzeville in the Mix

By Sam Cholke | June 25, 2014 4:34pm
 Architecture firm HOK released its bid for the Obama Library at the former Michael Reese Hospital site on Wednesday.
HOK Obama Library Plan
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HYDE PARK — Chicago Architecture firm HOK unveiled an expansive proposal for the Barack Obama Presidential Library on the south lakefront that promises to stitch Bronzeville back into the fabric of the city.

“The Barack Obama Presidential Library represents a seed of transformation that, once planted, would have the power to revitalize this important site,” said Architect Peter Ruggiero. “It creates new urban spaces that will reinvigorate the local community and initiate enduring change.”

The report submitted June 16 to the Barak Obama Foundation proposes putting the library on the former Michael Reese Hospital site, a largely vacant 48-acre parcel along South Lake Shore Drive between 26th and 31st streets and now owned by the city.

The 98-page plan boasts that the library would complete a “necklace” of museums along the lakefront from the Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park to the Museum of Science and Industry in Jackson Park.

HOK and its nine partners want to pursue the Living Building Challenge status for the library campus, considered one of the most rigorous sustainability certifications. To accomplish this, the campus would use “bio mimicry” to emulate natural ecological processes to capture and reuse water, rebuild soil and bolster bird habitat along the lakefront.

The plan calls for using a total of 98 acres of land along the south lakefront for the campus. A McCormick Place truck marshaling yard would be used connect the site to the lakefront and the Singer Pavilion building, which was once part of the hospital, would be a launching pad for historical tours of Bronzeville.

Around the main campus, the report envisions residential and retail development that would revitalize the community.

“We Chicagoans in Bronzeville have anticipated the opportunity to host Obama’s legacy since his election in 2008,” says Paula Robinson, a board member of the foundation partnering with HOK in a letter of support for the plan. “His story is our story, his journey is reflected in our history, and his vision of hope and change will be realized by our future.”

The proposal is under review by the Barack Obama Foundation, which is tasked with recommending a site to the president and is headed by Kenwood resident Marty Nesbitt. Later this summer the Obama Foundation will ask several applicants to submit a more detailed proposal before making a site recommendation in early 2015.

The University of Chicago is considered by many to be a strong contender for the library and has also submitted a proposal, which has not been made public. The University of Illinois at Chicago, too, has put forth a proposal.

New York and Hawaii have also submitted bids for the library.

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