Obama Library Says “Hey, Remember Us?”

An early proposal for the Obama Presidential Center that won't become reality

An early proposal for the Obama Presidential Center that won’t become reality

For months, the people of the city of Chicago have waited patiently for the people at the Obama Foundation to decide who’s going to design the new Obama Presidential Center.  What we know so far is that it will be somewhere on the South Side, quite likely in Jackson or Washington Parks, where no one will wail and complain and sue over the loss of public space like the Lucas Museum because… South Side.

Today the Obama Foundation sent out an e-mail blast to its supporters, followers, and the merely curious letting them know that after all these months they have absolutely nothing to report.  Nothing has changed.  Things may or may not be progressing, but that’s for them to know and you to find out.

What the O.F. did include in the message was a link to a new section of its web site where you can “Meet the Architects.”  And by “meet” it means “click though a bunch of pages to read Q&A sessions with the seven firms being considered.”

Should you choose to visit the Obama Foundation’s Meet the Architects web site (linky), you’ll be met with these gems:

  • A New York architecture firm unable to name a single building in Chicago as its “favorite.”
  • The firms talking about how they like “pushing the limits of technology,” “pushing the definition,” and admiring others who “pushed… to [the] limits.”
  • Six class pictures of hundreds of upper middle class white people, and a single picture of this one black guy competing to design a building honoring the nation’s first black president in a city that is ⅓ black.
  • The fact that of the seven firms being considered, six are headquartered in New York, because it’s not like there are any Chicago firms equal to the task.  And by the way, belated congratulations to John Ronan Associates for being the token Chicago firm in this race.  And also, our condolences, since no matter what work you produce, the competition has been stacked against you.  After all, when asked “Cubs or Sox” by the selection committee, Snøhetta responded “Mets.”  Well, at least they aren’t bullshitting us.

The only pearl of wisdom that can be gleaned from the Foundation’s most recent communications is intentionally obtuse: “So much is still undecided, but one thing is sure: this Center will be anything but ordinary.”  That seems to be an understatement, considering the other gems the contestants impart:

  • “The work should reflect optimism and love”
  • “The Center must be passionate”
  • Muhammad Ali would be a great dinner guest
  • “…’Sox’ keep your feet warm”



Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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  1. It seems to me YOU were more dismissive of Chicago architects than the Obama committee. They named Ronan a finalist; you dismissed him out of hand.

    John Ronan has designed some amazing buildings — from high end Blessings to budget conscious Day Schools. His clients love working with him, and they love the buildings he brings them. Don’t count him out until the decision is announced.

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    • Editor

      You are correct, Ronan does great work and should be very proud of being a finalist. But I’m someone who plays the odds, and assuming an even playing field, the odds of a single Chicago entry winning over six New York entries is only 16%. The point of what’s written in the article isn’t to disparage Ronan’s work, but to simply point out that the odds are stacked against him and that it’s more than a little strange that there aren’t more firms from Chicago, or any city other than New York, in the final seven. When I go to Arlington Park, I don’t bet on horses with 1-in-6 odds. In this case, I’d be happy to be wrong.

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