By the end of March, the Barack Obama Foundation will select the city and institution to host the Obama Presidential Center. In the running are four universities in three US cities, all with ties to President Obama. Among the hopefuls are the University of Chicago, The University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University, and the University of Hawaii. With the announcement weeks away, speculation is hotting up as to who will scoop the prized commission.
The early front runners are the two Chicago-based universities. Chicago is where the Obamas live and met and where they both held academic posts. For its bid, the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) teamed with AECOM, Isaiah International and Morphosis; two global architecture practices and a foundation led by National Basketball Association Hall-Of-Famer, Isaiah Thomas dedicated to economic development in minority communities. The two-site proposal calls for locating the library and museum in North Lawndale, an underserved community with a large African American population, and an Institute on UIC’s campus. One of the key features of the proposal is the building of the library and museum over the Eisenhower Expressway and the greening of large swathes of highways with trees and park space. A bikeway and rapid transit connections are also planned. Among the merits of the proposal are its good physical connections and proximity to downtown Chicago and its focus on urban regeneration in an area where it is sorely needed.
The University of Chicago’s bid proposes three possible sites for the library all on Chicago’s South Side, where President Obama began his family, his career and his community outreach. Conceived by Skidmore Owings & Merrill, the plans are preliminary with no buildings yet envisioned. UC’s proposal weighs the merits of each site and provides scant details of a proposed “education corridor” along 63rd Street and a “cultural ribbon” that would connect two Olmsted-designed parks, Washington Park and Jackson Park. While the City of Chicago has the best odds of hosting the Library, with two schools in the mix, both the UIC and UC proposals have drawbacks. UIC is in the midst of a leadership change and two of the UC sites in question would require building on preserved parkland, a move widely considered to be controversial. UC simply doesn’t have the land to build the library.
Columbia University in New York is where President Obama received his undergraduate education. Columbia’s proposal locates the library on its satellite 17-acre Manhattanville campus in Harlem, currently under development. Benjamin Hufbauer, an associate professor at the University of Louisville and expert on the politics of presidential libraries told CapitalNewYork.com that Columbia may have a real shot at the library. According to Hufbauer, real estate is one of the key criteria in selecting the location for presidential libraries along with financial incentives provided by the bidders and their institutional prestige. Columbia is seen to do well on all three fronts.
The final contender for the library is the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, where the Obama’s have a home and go on vacation. Perhaps recognising that it is the long shot to win the library, the University and the City of Honolulu has pulled out all the stops, hiring an all-star cast to develop designs for the library. The bid features design proposals from three teams including Allied Works Architecture, Snøhetta/WCIT Architecture and MOS/WorkShop-HI. If selected, it would be the first presidential library to be built off the mainland and in a beach location.
All four proposals are an exercise intended to land the library. When the Obama Foundation makes its decision in March, the next step will be selecting an architect for the project.