HOK has teamed with the President Obama Library and Museum Campus Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, on a planning and site selection proposal for hosting the Barack Obama Presidential Library in Chicago.
In a design bid submitted with Hawthorne Strategy Group to The Barack Obama Foundation on June 16, the team proposed locating the library on a site in Bronzeville, a historic neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Developed by an integrated planning and design team in collaboration with more than 20 firms, organizations and community groups, the proposal for the library embodies the grassroots spirit of the Obama campaign to reflect the President’s agenda.
“Our proposal challenges the historic trend of designing presidential libraries as static repositories of a presidency,” said Peter Ruggiero, AIA, design principal for HOK’s Chicago practice. “By fully realizing the potential of the site, the Barack Obama Presidential Library would go beyond cataloguing President Obama’s eight years in office. As a living part of this historic South Side neighborhood, it would drive economic development and reinforce a sense of place at a crossroads of Chicago.”
Echoing architect Daniel Burnham’s admonition to “make no small plans,” the vision for the Bronzeville site is comprehensive and bold. HOK’s design acknowledges the area’s history as the city’s original African-American neighborhood while positioning the Obama Presidential Library as a catalyst to promote sustainable growth and attract investments that will deliver significant economic benefits to the community and region.
“The Barack Obama Presidential Library represents a seed of transformation that, once planted, would have the power to revitalize this important site,” said Ruggiero. “It creates new urban spaces that will reinvigorate the local community and initiate enduring change.”
Based on the 1909 Burnham Plan, Chicago’s strong urban grid and appropriately scaled streets provide seamless connections among neighborhoods, parks and Lake Michigan. The former Michael Reese Hospital campus in Bronzeville, however, currently creates a barrier between Bronzeville and the lakefront. The design proposal gives the south lakefront back to the people of Chicago, extending the Chicago Museum Campus to the south and filling a gap in a necklace of public city assets that stretches from Evanston to Northwest Indiana.
HOK’s biomimetic plan for the Obama Presidential Library aims to achieve Living Building Challenge certification. Principles of biomimicry will create a site that is functionally indistinguishable from the region’s natural coastal environment and that fills a gap in Illinois’ Millennium Reserve habitat restoration program.
“The Obama Presidential Library itself will be a model of 21st-century healthy urban living, carbon neutrality and regenerative design,” said Colin Rohlfing, HOK’s sustainable design leader in Chicago.
An elevated park would offer park views along 31st, 29th and 26th Streets, welcoming the community to the site. Connecting the site to Lake Michigan creates an important new green space in the city that has the potential to house vertical farms and land dedicated to research in environmental and related sciences.
“If the Obamas want to make a difference and not just build a building, the Bronzeville bid deserves a good, good look,” wrote Greg Hinz in Crain’s Chicago Business. “Here’s hoping that [Obama Library commission head] Mr. Nesbitt, the Obamas and Mayor Rahm Emanuel try to work something out on this one, because it has all kinds of potential.”