If you wanted to know whether Barack Obama’s Presidential Center is going to look more like the sore thumb of the University of Chicago’s Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, or the nearly invisible bunker of Philadelphia’s Barnes Art Museum, last night’s meet and greet with the architects at the DuSable Museum wasn’t any help.
An intimate, cozy-up-to-the-neighbors affair for a few dozen representatives of local groups that have been clamoring for more community input, the event featured brief words from the New York-based architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, whose portfolio includes both the Logan Center and Barnes Museum, followed by a chance to rub elbows with them (and “mother-in-law-in-chief” Marian Robinson) at an open-bar reception.
Obama Foundation Vice President of Civic Engagement Michael Strautmanis announced that the architectural team, which includes Dina Griffin of the Chicago firm of Interactive Design Architects, “is already a family,” and that the Obama facility, with its mission to function as an urban center, “will be unlike any other presidential library.”
Obama is still in the process of exploring ideas for the design, after which “we’ll open our community process,” Strautmanis said. He assured the audience, “Your voices will be heard,” adding, in an oblique reference to community complaints, “We’ll need your engagement in a constructive manner.” The plan is to break ground late next year and open in 2021.
Tsien said she screamed with excitement when they got the call awarding them this project, which she regards as the pinnacle of their careers. Then, she said, she called her mother.
Williams noted that she didn’t call him.
“We’ve been working together 40 years,” Tsien said, “but we’re married, so I’d like to say it seems like 80 years.”
They’re charming, but their work tends to be either serene or severe. Which way it’ll go for this immensely important addition to Jackson Park remains to be seen.