When the Barack Obama Foundation announced its choice of four possible homes for the Obama Presidential Library, eliminating nine other contenders, it didn’t say a word about who might design the building.
But there may be reason for several well-known architects to celebrate. They include Renzo Piano, the master planner for Columbia University’s Manhattanville Campus, and Thom Mayne, a consultant to the University of Illinois at Chicago. Those schools, along with the University of Chicago and the University of Hawaii, have until December 11 to submit detailed proposals.
Among the nine rejected locations was one in Bronzeville, a historically black neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. A community group had enlisted HOK to develop its proposal, for the tract where the Michael Reese Hospital once stood. Another rejected proposal, also for the South Side of Chicago, was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), as part of a planned $4 billion development called Lakeside. The elimination of their sites isn’t a fatal blow for HOK or SOM—Obama could pair any site with any architect—but it isn’t good news, either.
In addition to Mayne and Piano, another architect who might be celebrating is Jeanne Gang, of Chicago’s Studio Gang Architects. Last fall, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Gang had met with the University of Chicago bid committee. The University, where Obama taught before running for public office, is seen by many as the most likely location or the building. But the Obamas could be wary of a site so close to their Hyde Park home; the crush of library visitors also wanting to see the residence could create security problems.
The University of Illinois at Chicago asked Robert Somol, the director of its school of Architecture, to help with its proposal. Somol, a theorist who describes himself as “a central figure in efforts to displace architecture's modes of criticality,” is, like Obama, a graduate of Harvard Law School. He says that Mayne was a consultant in the early round and will “amp up” his involvement in the next stage.
The University of Hawaii, which proffered an eight-acre site near downtown Honolulu, used several local architecture firms to help with its proposal, but it has not released the names of any of them.
The fourth finalist, Columbia University, where Obama studied as an undergraduate, is offering a site on its new Manhattanville Campus, which was master-planned by Renzo Piano Building Workshop and SOM. (Piano, who is designing four buildings for the new campus, had dinner with the President in Rome in March, The New York Times reported.)
Is David Adjaye, who had also had dinner with the President, still in the running? In an interview last year, marking the opening of his George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, architect Robert A.M. Stern speculated on Obama’s choice of architect. “Everybody says it’s going to be David Adjaye. He’s a great architect and so that’s great,” Stern told Architect Magazine.
The Foundation expects to make recommendations to the President and First Lady early next year.
Disclosure: This story was updated on September 19.
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