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Obama Library Architect To Be Tod Williams Billie Tsien Of New York City

By Sam Cholke | June 30, 2016 12:15pm | Updated on June 30, 2016 3:10pm
 The firm was behind projects from New Yew York to Hong Kong, including the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago.
Projects by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects
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HYDE PARK — The foundation charged with building Barack Obama's presidential library in Chicago has chosen the firm behind the University of Chicago's Logan Center for the Arts to design the project.

The foundation on Thursday announced it had selected Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects of New York City to design the library. Interactive Design Architects of Chicago was selected as a partner in the design.

"The president and first lady were particularly impressed with the experience of the architects," Martin Nesbitt, chairman of the foundation, said Thursday.

He said the design process would take up to two years and won't begin until the foundation chooses between sites in Jackson and Washington parks sometime before the end of the year.

"The real design process begins anew now and it is really a blank slate," Nesbitt said.

None of the architects has yet come up with any formal design, but has instead created concepts that will inform the eventual design and that were reviewed by the president.

Nesbitt said all of the teams were strong but Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects had the right chemistry with Barack and Michelle Obama. The firm designed Logan Center for the Arts at 915 E. 60th St.

In December, the Obama Foundation released a list of seven architects being considered for the job. 

The list included Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects along with Adjaye Associates of London; Diller Scofidio and Renfro of New York City; John Ronan Architects of Chicago; Renzo Piano Building Workshop of Genova, Italy; SHoP Architects of New York City; and Snøhetta, New York City.

John Ronan Architects, the only Chicago-based firm on the list, designed the Gary Comer Youth Center in Grand Crossing and the Poetry Foundation building in River North. Though Ronan was not selected, the foundation did select Chicago's Interactive Design Elements to partner on the design.

Nesbitt said several of the finalists suggested partnering with the firm and its South Sider president, Dina Griffin.

He said the firm was not part of the original 144 architects vying for the job, but was added to the team as a full partner after meeting with the president.

"This is a collaboration," Nesbitt said. "We're trying to put together a team that has the best chemistry."

Locally, minority-owned Interactive Design Elements has worked on the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Eckhardt Research Center at the University of Chicago.

Obama Foundation officials gave few indications of what the design could look like.

Paul Goldberger, a former New Yorker architecture critic brought on as a consultant, said Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects bring dignity, beauty and understatement to their designs, which was attractive for a project that needs to work within either of the historically significant parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted currently under consideration.

The Obama Foundation has not selected a site for the library and still is debating between locations in Jackson and Washington parks.

Nesbitt said the foundation's goal is to have the presidential library open by 2021, but the timeline remains in flux.

"We are in Chicago and there are a lot of factors in Chicago that go into building a building, and No. 1 is weather," Nesbitt said.

He said the foundation continues to raise money for the library and will lift caps on donations from individuals and reconsider limits on donations from people who are not U.S. citizens or are lobbyists after the president leaves office.

Nesbitt said there would be no estimated cost for the library until after a site is selected and the designs completed.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised the selection of  architects.

“These two firms have a successful track record of creating innovative civic projects across the country, including the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago," Emanuel said. "When complete, the presidential center will offer tremendous educational, cultural and economic benefits to the city and its residents."

He said the library is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the South Side and Chicago.

Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, which designed the Logan Center for the Arts on the University of Chicago campus, is vying for the Obama library job. [University of Chicago/Jason Smith]

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