New renderings for the Obama Presidential Center have been released.

A north-facing view of the public plaza and Museum building, as viewed from the roof of the Chicago Public Library building.
Overlooking the landscaped pathways of the campus's plaza, the new branch of the public library will provide unobstructed views of the museum building to the north. Image © The Obama Foundation

Slated for construction on the western edge of Chicago’s Jackson Park, the reported US$500 million project has been a controversial one since its location was announced back in 2016. But at the end of October, just four months after a judge tossed a lawsuit standing in its way, the center’s latest design has been revealed. 

A landscaped courtyard brings natural light and greenery to the Center’s public spaces, including a café on the Garden Level of the Museum building.
Live performances and festivals will be held on the public plaza. Image © The Obama Foundation

Set to occupy 19.3 acres of the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed park’s western edge, the campus will include a public plaza and four buildings, with a museum as its centerpiece. The Obama Foundation’s proposal has gone through several iterations since the first renderings were revealed in May 2017, and the latest update presents a more refined, organic look for the potential Chicago landmark. 

A rendering of the new branch of the Chicago Public Library at the Obama Presidential Center.
The campus boasts a new branch of the Chicago Public Library, with an interactive digital media space and a rooftop fruit-and-vegetable garden. Image © The Obama Foundation

Featuring a more sculptural design, with an 88-foot-tall wall of windows on the mezzanine level and a faceted stone facade to reflect the way the light changes over the course of the day, the museum’s form “is inspired by the idea of four hands coming together; a recognition that many hands shape a place,” according to an Obama Foundation update. “The museum building’s design embodies the idea of ascension—of a movement upward from the grassroots.”

Representing “the power of what people can do when they come together,” the museum’s galleries are stacked vertically for a smaller footprint, resulting in a soaring design capped off by a space called the Sky Room, which will provide views of the South Side, where the 44th US president got his start as a community organizer, as well as the park and the city’s waterfront. Though there will be an admission fee for the museum, the Sky Room will be open to the public at no charge. 

A one-acre wetland area will capture and treat stormwater and feature a Wetland Walk that threads through the area and offers a unique environment with seating, a tree canopy, and a place for children to play.
The wetland area will feature a walkway, a tree canopy, a place for kids to play, and plenty of seating. Image © The Obama Foundation

Landscape-wise, the focus is on sustainability, with an eye toward the site’s long-term ecological health. More trees will be planted and new soils will be introduced; a one-acre wetland area will capture and treat stormwater, with a Wetland Walk winding its way throughout, while the historic sunken lawn of the Women’s Garden will be enhanced with an expanded perennial garden, also designed to capture and treat rainwater. 

On snowy days, the Great Lawn becomes a sledding hill with a backdrop of the Museum building to the north.
In the summer, the Great Lawn will host movies; in the winter, it'll transform into a sledding hill. Image © The Obama Foundation

Of course, this is all contingent upon the clearing of several legal hurdles. As the Chicago Sun-Times reported in June, lawyers for the advocacy group that filed the aforementioned lawsuit plan to take their case to the seventh US Circuit Court of Appeals. And then there’s the federal review, mandated for the National Register of Historic Places–listed public park. According to the Chicago Tribune, a report by city officials for state and federal agencies declared that “building the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park will have an ‘adverse effect on the park” – though the paper was quick to note that the report is just one step in what’s sure to be a lengthy review process. 

But the foundation’s staff is undaunted by the delays. “It’s really in many ways an homage to the South Side and President and Mrs. Obama’s story emerging out of this particular place,” museum director Louise Bernard told Time in July. “It’s a way of giving back to the people of Chicago and particularly to South Side residents.”

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