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Few details emerge on evolving design of Chicago’s Obama Library

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Despite many community meetings, much remains unknown about the upcoming Jackson Park complex

First shown to the public in May, the stone-clad tower of the Obama Presidential Center is just one aspect of the design that could change.
Obama Foundation

After breaking cover in May, the plan to transform Jackson Park’s western edge into the future campus of the Obama Presidential Center has continued to evolve—albeit primarily behind the scenes. While the OPC organizers have hosted numerous meetings regarding the project, one aspect that has remained murky has been changes to the architectural design from New York-based Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

Though no updated renderings have surfaced over the past six months, a handful of new details were gleamed from a recent international summit hosted by the Obama Foundation, reported Chicago Tribune columnist Blair Kamin. For instance, the South Side project’s multi-level parking structure proposed for the east end of Chicago’s historic Midway Plaisance could be redesigned and “pressed further into the ground.” The controversial garage may even be moved east of Stony Island Avenue.

While the multi-building OPC site plan remains so far largely unchanged, important details are quietly being worked out behind the scenes.
Obama Foundation

The architectural centerpiece of the Obama campus—a 100-plus-foot-tall stone-clad tower—could also see its final look evolve. Though the designers confirmed the completion of 30 different studies for the structure, they would not elaborate on any changes. As far as programming is concerned, the tower’s top level will include an observation space open to the public while the museum itself would be accessible only by paying ticket holders.

Unlike traditional presidential libraries which house thousands of physical documents, the Jackson Park facility will provide digital access to President Obama’s archives, freeing up space for civic use including activities like basketball, dance recitals, and yoga classes. A community garden and test kitchen focused on nutritious foods (a cause championed by former First Lady Michelle Obama) could also be in the cards for Jackson Park.

Originally expected to go before the Chicago Plan Commission this month, the OPC isn’t ready for its second big reveal. Instead, the November Plan Commission agenda is unusually light—perhaps a result of the third Thursday of the month falling on the Thanksgiving Holiday. According to Kamin, it may be some months before the public gets a real glimpse at what is “quietly (and too secretly) shaping up to be a precedent-shattering presidential center.”