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Who Will Design Obama Library? Some Think They Know

By Sam Cholke | May 13, 2015 5:41am

Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture by David Adjaye [Adjaye Associates]

HYDE PARK — The Obamas have picked a city for the Barack Obama Presidential Library, but the question remains who is going to decide what it looks like.

The next step in the process for the Obama library is picking an architect, Obama Foundation President Marty Nesbitt said Tuesday. Speculation is already running wild in the architecture community.

The Obama Foundation has given no indication of who will be picked or even what the process for choosing an architect would look like, but eyes are already turning to Tanzanian-born British architect David Adjaye.

Adjaye’s bold design for the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture put him at the top of the list for architecture critics and earned him a seat at a state dinner with Obama in 2012.

"Everybody says it’s going to be David Adjaye," Robert Stern, the architect who designed George W. Bush's library in Texas, told Architect Magazine.

Adjaye has frequently batted away questions about the Obama library as “premature.”

It’s Adjaye’s partner on the Smithsonian project that may be the one to really watch.

National Center for Civil and Human Rights by Philip Freelon [Freelon Architecture]

Philip Freelon of Perkins and Will has already made trips to the South Side to talk about the library with community members.

In May 2014, Freelon traveled from his offices in North Carolina to talk with community members in Washington Park at a meeting of the Washington Park Woodlawn Community Coalition for the Obama Library, a group of community leaders expected to influence the community benefits that come with the library.

Obama also appointed Freelon in 2011 to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. The Commission to advise the president and Congress “on matters of design and aesthetics.”

With the University of Chicago officially onboard for the library, it may push its own favored architects.

University of Chicago residence hall by Studio Gang [University of Chicago]

Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang has become the “official architect of Hyde Park,” designing the university’s new dorms and two major residential and retail projects in the neighborhood.

Tod Williams and Billie Tsien also have a foothold in the neighborhood with their design for the university’s Logan Center for the Arts.

Marshall Brown, founder of Marshall Brown Projects and an associate professor of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, said he thought the library job shouldn’t necessarily go to an established firm and could be used to bring up rising talent.

“My point is that this should be an opportunity to promote new home-grown talent,” Brown said Monday.

Brown’s own shortlist for whom he’d like to see design the library includes; Johnson Schmaling Architects and La Dallman, both of Milwaukee; Höweler and Yoon Architecture of Boston; nARCHITECTS of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Studio Sumo of Long Island City, N.Y.

Brown said he would add his own firm to that list as well.

Sky Courts by Höweler and Yoon Architecture [Höweler and Yoon Architecture]

MIzuta Museum of Art by Studio Sumo [Studio Sumo]

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