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Updated Designs for Obama Presidential Center Revealed

According to the architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune, the Obama Presidential Center is still falling short of the iconic status that can serve as a landmark for the South Side of Chicago.
October 29, 2019, 6am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Lawrence Jackson

Blair Kamin shares insights and commentary on newly released, updated designs for the Obama Presidential Center planned for the South Side of Chicago.

The first version of the Obama Presidental Center’s museum tower, unveiled in 2017, was heavy and funereal, like a truncated Egyptian pyramid. 

Version two, which emerged last year, was taller and less severe, with screenlike walls of letters and a lighter-colored stone. But it was still pretty massive and intimidating. Former President Barack Obama told the architects to make it more welcoming and to give it a more interesting and engaging form, they said in a telephone interview Saturday.

Since being announced in March 2017, the Obama Presidential Center has been criticized for potentially displacing local residents and not closing an adjacent street to car traffic, and has encountered at least one legal setback and questions about the need for a community benefits agreement.

With that history as context, Kamin writes that version three of the design for the Obama Presidential Center is an improvement, but an incomplete effort.

The design, by New York architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, is considerably improved, especially on its main, south-facing front. But the tower has yet to become a compelling object — or icon, to use the currently overused word — from all sides.

The good news, according to Kamin, is that the design is still evolving, and there's time for further changes. Also, "the federal review of the center’s impact on Jackson Park won’t be done until early next year, so ground won’t be broken until then."

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