The road to the Obama Presidential Library has been a long one, from a multi-city competition to a scramble by Chicago to secure public land for two proposed sites, itself setting off a debate over public land use and the donation of prized parkland designed by one of the country's foremost landscape architects, to the winnowing down of different architecture firms. Sounds like a fitting metaphor for the slow grind of governance in D.C. But finally, the selection process seems near its final stage, with the Barack Obama Foundation having just released a list of seven finalists who will submit proposals for the library early next year. Here's a rundown of the competitors fighting for this prized commission.
David Adjaye Associates
Description: Enough rumours have been circulating about Tanzanian-born British architect David Adjaye's front-runner status for this prized commission that it seems like words alone may land him the gig. But a look at Adjaye's oeuvre—for Chicagoans, it's as simple as visiting the career overview now at the Art Institute—suggests his flexibility and fidelity to site-specific, engaging patterns is enough advance to the final round of presentations. From his start with private commissions in London, such as the Elektra House, he proven himself skilled at fashioning Modernist forms with unique lightwells and airy interiors, and as Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange points out in a lengthy look at Adjaye's career, he engages with patterns in a way that "goes beyond surface to engage material and production, creating exteriors that are rich in the round."
Chicago Connection: Adjaye currently has a career retrospective showing at the Art Institute.
Famous Works: Dirty House (London: 2002), Museum of Contemporary Art Denver (Denver: 2007); Nobel Peace Center (Oslo: 2005), Skolkovo Moscow School of Management (Moscow: 2010), Sugar Hill Housing Development (New York: 2014), National Museum of African American History and Culture (Washington, D.C.: 2016)
Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Description: The unorthodox, often heady New York-based firm may be best known for its revamps and institutional work, high-minded projects that feature a conceptual examination of space; consider their curvaceous entrance the The Broad, a recently opened museum in Los Angeles, or the way the High Line, which they co-designed, offered an alternative level means to view and interact with the city. The firm did mostly theoretical work until getting its big break with the Slow House in 1990, an art collector's private residence in the Hamptons.
Chicago Connection: The firm recently announced its first Chicago commission, the Forum, a meeting space for the University of Chicago.
Famous Works: Blur Building (Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland: 2002), Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston: 2006), The High Line (New York: 2009), Alice Tully Hall (New York: 2009), The Broad Museum (Los Angele:, 2015)
John Ronan Architects
Description: The lone Chicago firm and architect selected for the final round, Ronan, a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, is probably best known for the light-filled, glass-encased Poetry Foundation Headquarters. Chicago architecture icon Stanley Tigerman has called out Ronan's Miesian approach, which tends to be more focused on materials, space balance than flashy shapes and facades.
Chicago Connection: Called a rising star by the Chicago Tribune's architecture critic, Blair Kamin, Ronan currently has a few projects in the work in downtown Chicago, including a glass tower at 151 North Franklin, a reworking of the CNA building.
Famous Works: Gary Comer Youth Center ( Chicago, 2006), Yale Steam Laundry (Washington, D.C.: 2008), Poetry Foundation Headquarters (Chicago: 2011)
Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Paris and Genoa
Description: The Pritzker-winning Italian architect, who started with lightweight experiments and temporary structures and is best known for museums and public spaces, such as the new Whitney Museum, designs experimental forms that celebrate and even showcase engineering, exemplified by the inside-out appearance of the influential Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. As Alexandra Lange points out in her review of Piano's Whitney, for years, his word has been grounded in the concept of a piazza, or public square.
Chicago Connection: Piano designed the stunning Modern Wing extension of the Art Institute, which includes the sleek walkway that connects the Miesian steel structure with nearby Millennium Park.
Famous Works: Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris: 1971), Kansai Air Terminal (Osaka: 1994), Parco della Musica (Rome: 2002), California Academy of Sciences (2008: San Francisco), Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago: 2009), The Shard (London: 2012), Whitney Museum of American Art (New York: 2015)
Description: Celebrated for its tech-savvy, multi-faceted process, this Manhattan-based firm has become a local and international powerhouse, exuding a particular talent for urban planning and working within local constraints that isn't necessarily common among larger firms. They're currently working on designs for the new Uber mini-campus in the Bay Area.
Chicago Connection: The firm won a Chicago Athenaeum American Architecture Award in 2009.
Famous Works: Google Office (Mountain View, California: 2011), West Thames Bridge (New York: 2012), Barclays Arena (Brooklyn: 2012)
Description: Named after a snowy peak in Norway, this landscape and architecture firm is known for sweeping public spaces that create an artful fusion of both disciplines, such as the Norwegian National Opera House, a glass hall bisected by a white plane that slices and slips into the adjacent water.
Chicago Connection: The firm was the subject of a 2010 retrospective held at Crown Hall at IIT.
Famous Works: Lillehammer Art Museum (Lillehammer, Norway: 1994), Bibliotheca Alexandria (Alexandria, Egypt: 2001), Norwegian National Opera House (Oslo: 2007), September 11 Museum Pavilion (New York: 2014), Times Square Reconstruction (New York: 2015), SFMOMA Expansion (San Francisco: Expected 2016)
Tod Williams Billie Tsien
Description: The husband-and-wife team, both academics, have been celebrated for their thoughtful approach to research and user experience. Their design for a medical research center in La Jolla was so conducive to collaboration, according to a researcher, that it helped them make discoveries they otherwise wouldn't have made.
Chicago Connection: The firm designed the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, a multidisciplinary arts facility for the University of Chicago.
Famous Works: Hereford College ( Charlottesville, Virginia: 1992), Cranbrook Natatorium (Bloomfield Hills, Michigan: 1999), American Museum of Folk Art (New York: 2001), Neurosciences Institute (La Jolla, California: 2012)