Return of a Favorite Son to the Windy City? – CAC’s Barack Obama Library Competition

 

2014 chicago prize - winners - chicago architectural club-5

Winning entry by Zhu Wenyi, Fu Junsheng, and Liang Yiang (all images courtesy of the CAC)

During the 2008 presidential campaign, there was the perception that a Barack Obama presidency would usher in an era of new ideas. Years later, there has been some isolated progress, but partisan politics has limited any wiggle room an Obama presidency might have enjoyed. Still, there is a hope for a final decision by this president that could set a precedent for the foreseeable future: a design competition for a presidential library. A successful national competition for such a project could set an example to be emulated many times over at state and municipal levels by a tested democratic process.

 

Although the site of a Barack Obama Presidential Library has not yet been determined, the list has been whittled down to three possibilities: Chicago, New York and Hawaii. Although Hawaii is the President’s birthplace, and New York would have a large number of visitors, Chicago would seem to be the logical favorite, as it is the place where Obama’s political future began in its meteoric rise, culminating in his election to the nation’s highest office.

 

A lot has happened in Chicago as both government and the University of Chicago have taken steps to prepare for the city’s bid. A recent article has described aggressive real estate purchases by the University starting in 2008, including an entire block along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. These could well be attributed to future expansion plans by the University into an adjoining neighborhood, near Washington Park. But many see these real estate acquisitions as part of a strategy to assure the library’s location near the university, where Obama briefly taught in the Law School before going to Washington. In any case, the City also regards the Washington Park and Jackson Park locations on the South Side as the most logical sites for the library.

With the prospect of a presidential library in Chicago, the Chicago Architecture Club (CAC) could not resist staging an ideas competition with the design of an Obama library as the design challenge. As the 2014 Chicago Architecture Prize, this has become an annual event for the CAC, and this time they picked an obvious subject as a winner. Aside from a designated site on the Chicago River, the program was flexible, and participants were asked to fill in the blanks themselves. Although the prize money was relatively modest, the subject matter had to be tantalizing for potential participants. The jury was local, consisting of architects from several of the city’s major firms:

• Andy Metter (Epstein)

• Brian Lee (SOM)

• Dan Wheeler (Wheeler Kearns Architects)

• Elva Rubio (Rubio Studio)

• Geoffrey Goldberg (G. Goldberg + Associates)

• Stanley Tigerman (Tigerman McCurry Architects)

 

The results of the competition revealed that the competition was highly successful, in that it elicited a range of ideas, which were not only at the highest creative level, but quite doable.

The two winning entries were by:

Zhu Wenyi, Fu Junsheng, and Liang Yiang, Beijing, China

Aras Burak Sen, Los Angeles/UAE (OMA)

Honorable Mentions

Dániel Palotai, Budapest, Hungary

Drew Cowdrey and Trey Kirk, Boston (Harvard GSD) 


Ann Lui and Craig Reschke, Boston (Harvard GSD)


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