TWBTA and IDEA Chosen to Design Obama Presidential Library on Chicago’s South Side

After months of anticipation, the Obama Foundation has decided in which direction it wants to go with the Barack Obama Presidential CenterTWBTA out of New York and IDEA in Chicago.

You may know TWBTA (Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects) from such projects as the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts and the Phoenix Art Museum.  Locally, IDEA was the architect of record for Renzo Piano’s Art Institute of Chicago Modern Wing and the accompanying Nichols Bridgeway.

TWBTA’s mission statement reads:

“Whatever we design must be of use, but at the same time transcend its use. It must be rooted in time and site and client needs but it must transcend time and site and client needs. We do not want to develop a style or specialize in any project type. We chose to work on only a few projects at a time, with intense personal involvement in all parts of the design and construction. We want the studio to be a good place to work, and learn, and grow, both for the people who work in our office, and for ourselves. The metaphor for the office is a family. Each person must take responsibility for their own work, but as well must be responsible for the good of the whole. We would like to be financially stable, but this will not outweigh artistic or ethical beliefs, which will always come first. The work should reflect optimism and love. The spiritual aspect of the work will emerge if the work is done well.”

The new Obama Center is expected to be carved out of either Washington Park, or Jackson Park.  A decision has not yet been made.  But while the presidential center will destroy dozens of acres of public parkland, no parking lots are being threatened, so court challenges are not expected.

The official press release follows:


The Obama Foundation Announces Architect Selection for Future Presidential Center

Today, the Obama Foundation announced that it has selected the architectural team of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners (TWBTA) and Interactive Design Architects (IDEA) to lead the effort to design the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s mid-South Side. The Center will include a library holding the Presidential archives, a museum focusing on the Obama Presidency and issues of our time, and space for programs and initiatives that advance the Foundation’s public mission.

The Obama Foundation issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) on December 21, 2015 to seven architectural firms, who were chosen from more than 140 firms worldwide who had originally submitted qualifications.

TWBTA, based in New York, and IDEA, a Chicago firm founded almost twenty-five years ago, will lead a multi-disciplinary and wide-ranging design and engineering effort that may ultimately include as many as 15-20 other firms engaged in various specialty areas all crucial to the Center’s design. The Obama Foundation will manage the design and construction of the Center with a project management team that will be named at a later date.

“We are thrilled to announce the selection of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners to lead the design team for the Obama Presidential Center, and that they will partner with Interactive Design Architects, with Dina Griffin as its President as they begin this exciting project. Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners stood out in their commitment to exploring, together with the Foundation, the best ways of creating an innovative center for action that inspires communities and individuals to take on our biggest challenges. Interactive Design Architects brings local knowledge and a track record for delivering excellence to large, complex civic projects,” said Martin Nesbitt, chairman of the Obama Foundation. “We were extremely impressed by each of the proposals from the seven firms and thank them for their passion, effort, resources and time throughout this process.”

“We are delighted to begin work with Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners and Interactive Design Architects on the design phase of the Obama Presidential Center. Tod and Billie’s past projects display an incredible commitment to scale, craft and materiality, and their proposal demonstrated an equally genuine commitment to also carefully balance an understanding and respect for the history and potential of the South Side, the Olmstead and Vaux-designed park setting and Chicago’s overall architectural legacy,” said Robbin Cohen, executive director of the Obama Foundation. “Together with these two firms, we look forward to building a Center that is a place for ever-evolving, innovative programming.”

“We are deeply moved by the mission of the Obama Foundation and the role the Center can play in empowering that mission. It is a joy, an honor, and a responsibility to create a place that reflects the optimism and integrity of the President and the First Lady. This has been a transformative presidency and we will work to make a Center that embodies and expands the Obamas’ vision. We look forward to collaborating with our partners, Interactive Design Architects, and to working with the South Side community,” said Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners.

“It’s a remarkable opportunity to work with the Obama Foundation and to partner with Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners on the design for the Obama Presidential Center. As a native Chicagoan and resident of the South Side, this project is deeply meaningful to me and I could not be more excited. To play a role in a project that will have such a transformative impact on the community and the wider world is a dream come true,” said Dina Griffin, President of Interactive Design Architects.

The Obama Foundation is currently considering two sites for the location of the Center, Jackson Park and Washington Park on the South Side.

Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners

Tod Williams and Billie Tsien founded their New York-based firm in 1986. Paul Schulhof joined their studio in 1999 and became the firm’s third partner in 2013. Their studio — by choice — designs only institutional, academic, civic, and residential work. They were awarded the 2013 National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama. Noteworthy work designed by Williams and Tsien include The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago, the Asia Society Center in Hong Kong, and the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California. They are currently designing the United States Embassy complex in Mexico City, Mexico.

Interactive Design Architects

Interactive Design Architects is a Minority-owned Business Enterprise and Women-owned Business Enterprise certified architecture design firm founded in Chicago in 1992 emphasizing listening, creativity, discernment and versatility to realize client goals. IDEA excels working with multi-layered and multi-talented stakeholder groups, effectively engaging all investors, acknowledging divergent inspirations and imagining new potentials while facilitating consensus. Their ongoing relationships with large, layered organizations such as the Art Institute of Chicago well illustrate their capacity for inclusive, participative and responsive architecture.


Author: Editor

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

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