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How the Obama Presidential Center could reshape Jackson Park

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The Obama Foundation has offered a first look at early designs for the upcoming presidential library

Obama Foundation

The Obama Foundation has finally taken the wraps off of the preliminary design for the upcoming Obama Presidential Center for Chicago’s Woodlawn community. The project, which will be planted on the western edge of Jackson Park, has been designed by a superstar cast of architects which include Chicago’s Interactive Design Architects led by Diana Griffin and New York’s Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Site Design Group, and Living Habitats were tapped to oversee landscape design and how the museum and library will fit into the historic Jackson Park.

Obama Foundation

Designed by legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, Jackson Park was recently highlighted by the preservation group Preservation Chicago in its annual list of “endangered” buildings and places. The group suggested that big projects like the Obama Presidential Center and the overhaul of the Jackson Park golf course could potentially compromise the park’s architectural integrity.

However, the Obama Foundation has offered a look at how the new complex will fit into the western section of Jackson Park that the city is offering for the campus. The conceptual site plan shows that the Obama Presidential Center will take the place of the park’s existing running track and baseball diamonds. In addition, an open field adjacent to Metra tracks will be reshaped, and could possibly house an underground parking garage.

Obama Foundation

Another item worth noting is how South Cornell Drive will be reshaped. Earlier this year, it had been reported that the Obama Foundation was exploring the idea of closing Cornell Drive between 60th and 67th streets. While discussing the plan this afternoon at the South Shore Cultural Center, President Obama did confirm that the his foundation is seeking the closure of Cornell Drive. The conceptual site plan unveiled today also shows that green space will be reclaimed by closing the stretch of the road that passes through Jackson Park.

Obama says that the closure of Cornell Drive is vital for the plan. “The truth is, if you have that road, there’s only so much you can do,” the president told an audience at today’s big unveiling in Chicago. Reshaping this section of Jackson Park and removing the road will not only help make the park more beautiful, but it’ll also help draw residents and visitors to use the public space.

“Jackson park is beautiful, but let’s face it, when you drive through the park, it feels different than Lincoln Park does,” the former president said today to a packed South Shore Cultural Center. “It is not used in the same way. It is not accessible in the same way.”

The museum building planned for the Obama Presidential Center
Obama Foundation

In a press release, the Obama Foundation offered more details on the plan and how the sprawling complex will integrate into Jackson Park:

To further establish a welcoming sense of place and to enable the interior and exterior programs, the 200-225,000 square foot building is divided into three structures including the Museum, Forum and Library. They form a central public plaza and will be connected below grade. A new topography extends over the top of the Forum and Library structures to further stitch together the campus and the park. This sculpting of the land, a hallmark of the great American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted who designed Jackson Park, creates new hillsides for recreation like sledding and roof terraces with higher vantage points.

Here’s one more look at where the Obama Presidential Center and its new grounds will go.

As far as the timeline is concerned, President Obama stated today that the entire project will take four years to build and the landscape work could take another four years.

However, the president has made it clear that his plan will seek to beautify Jackson Park and provide services to residents of the nearby communities of Woodlawn, Hyde Park, and the South Shore.

“It’s not a single building, it’s more like a campus,” the president told an audience of roughly 300 attendees at today’s unveiling in Chicago. “It’s not just a building—we’re talking about transforming Jackson Park to where it becomes a people’s park.”

South Shore Cultural Center

7059 South South Shore Drive, , IL 60649 Visit Website