First Look: Four Design Ideas For Obama’s Presidential Library

Including a coral reef-inspired design in Hawaii and a park that blankets a highway interchange in Chicago


In September, the Barack Obama Foundation announced finalists for the location of Barack Obama’s presidential library and museum. Two of those locations–University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Hawaii at Honolulu–have released speculative renderings of what the design might look like. Short answer: pretty slick!


The University of Hawaii at Honolulu submitted three proposed plans by some big-name architecture firms: Snøhetta and WCIT architecture; MOS and Workshop-HI; and Allied Works Architecture. Snøhetta’s plan is based around the metaphor of a coral reef, a “diverse collective of individuals growing over many generations,” according to the proposal, and the sleek design forms the shape of a teardrop when seen from above.

Allied Works’ wave-like design is similarly beautiful when seen from above; when viewed from the side, the curving roofs conjure up ocean swells. MOS and Workshop-HI’s design is the only one of the three to eschew a sea-inspired aesthetic for a plan that seems more grounded on the Earth. Their proposal features a cluster of buildings, which resemble flat stones laid under and over each other, some tilted and others parallel to the ground. They say their design “aims to be as public and open as possible, to nature and to the community.” Each of the three proposals includes a global youth leadership academy, a community organizing center, an interactive visitor center, and more.

Allied Works

UIC’s design spans two locations in Chicago, one in the North Lawndale neighborhood and the other over the CTA’s Blue Line UIC-Halsted station. The most notable feature is that part of the site would extend over the Jane Byrne Interchange–the intersection of the Kennedy, Dan Ryan, and Eisenhower expressways–to create a green space including urban farms and parks. This site would include a visitor center and an “O-4 Institute” for academic and civic collaboration. The library and museum would be situated in the North Lawndale location, connected to the other site via the Blue Line. To make this work, the Kostner Avenue station at North Lawndale would need to be reopened, which Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised if their proposal is chosen. The proposal was made in conjunction with the Steans Family Foundation, which wants to revitalize the North Lawndale neighborhood. The foundation’s executive director Patricia Ford wrote that she “strongly believes the UIC-North Lawndale presidential corridor will serve as a testament to inclusiveness, revitalization, and renewal.”

Comparing the concepts proposed for the Hawaii and Chicago locations, it’s clear that Hawaii wants to be innovative, beautiful, and global in its scope, whereas UIC is focused on improving the community the library would inhabit. Obama’s career began as a community organizer in Chicago, so UIC’s approach makes a lot of sense. It remains to be seen what University of Chicago and Columbia pull out, so we’ll keep you updated. And ultimately, Michelle and Barack Obama will select an architect some time in 2015.

[H/T: Designboom, Chicago Tribune]

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