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Handicapping the Architects Competing for the Obama Presidential Library

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Ever since Chicago was announced as the location of the forthcoming Barack Obama Presidential Library, speculation over who would land this prime commission, expected to cost at least half a billion dollars, has been rampant. Rumors have circulated around Tanzanian-born British architect David Adjaye, and hometown partisans have been hopeful a local architect would win what may be one of the city's most lucrative and important jobs. Chicago Tribune architectural critic Blair Kamin helped cut out some of the guess work yesterday when he reveled a partial list of the estimated 50 or more firms who have received official invites to submit bids, in advance of the September 16 due date for RFQs. While Chicago architect Mark Sexton of the firm Krueck+Sexton wryly noted that at this point in the selection process, picking favorites is little like the Republican primaries, since standings are bound to shift, we thought we'd examine how the potential field is shaping up, and look at both the frontrunners and dark horses.

JAHN Architects (Chicago)
One of the powerhouse Chicago architects to get an official invite from the barack Obama Foundation, Jahn bring a unique spin on modernism, along with institutional experience near the two potential building sites. His Joe and Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago, a low, sunken glass dome that preserved a sense of openness on a crowded campus, suggests the ability to design institutional buildings with a small footprint, a key consideration for the two potential sites, both on parkland.

Tigerman McCurry Architects (Chicago)
Kamin noted that the husband-and-wife team have extensive experience designing for the disadvantaged. With the Obama library expected to be a centerpiece of post-presidency activities focused on social justice issues, any architects who can create a library design in line with this philosophy may move to the top of the list.

Ross Barney Architects (Chicago)
While the Chicago firm earns respect for innovative transportation projects, most notably the cylindrical cocoon now surrounding the CTA's Cermak stop, as well as work for the newly opened Riverwalk, it's also known for pushing a social justice agenda, having completed many community projects in and around Chicago. Principal Carol Ross Barney was awarded the Thomas Jefferson Award for her portfolio of public work. The firm also has big-budget government work under its belt, such as the Oklahoma City Federal Building.

Perkins+Will (Chicago Office)
While to local office of this massive firm has been a big player in numerous large-scale projects around Chicago, including the signature Rush University Medical Center, its has to be considered a frontrunner simply due to the work of Ralph Johnson. The architect's work on the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum give him the rare distinction of having created a beloved museum on Chicago parkland, and recent projects in China, including the Shanghai Natural History Museum, a sunken, nautilus shaped structure, showcase innovative, eco-conscious design.

JGMA (Chicago)
While JGMA didn't officially receive an invite, it's good to see the relatively young firm take a stab at winning the commission, since their recent additions to Chicago's landscape, including the colorful El Centro building, showcase innovative ideas on how to make institutional buildings more energetic and exciting.

Robert A.M. Stern Architects (New York)
Stern's traditional design for the Bush library was perhaps a more accurate reflection of the last president's own personal style, but a more conservative take may not gel with the look one might expect for the current president's legacy library.

Ennead Architects (New York)
The New York firm's creation for President Clinton, the "Bridge to the 21st Century" metaphor writ large and suspended above Little Rock, may be one of the best antecedents as far as modern presidential libraries go.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro (New York)
The multi-faceted firm has certainly done its fair share of high profile projects, including the High Line. The design for the Broad Museum in Los Angeles, which merges a public plaza with the new cultural center, may represent the firm's current thoughts on institutional design within an urban setting.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (San Francisco Office)
While it's not much to go on, the office's U.S. Consulate General's office in Guangzhou does seem to fit in well with the admittedly vague brief submitted by the Barack Obama Foundation. The modest structure conveys gravitas while blending into the surrounding scenery, perhaps a solid conceptual framework for the forthcoming library.

Renzo Piano (Genova, Italy)
It's hard to underestimate the chances of a Pritzker winner, especially one with experience in the city; his Modern Wing at the Art Institute added to the grace of the city's centerpiece park. While the redesigned Whitney is still in the public eye, it would be exciting to see how Piano could fashion another museum with the green focus of the California Academy of Sciences, which would support the president's bid for an environmental legacy.

OK, Now it's Official: Obama Library Coming to the South Side [Curbed Chicago]
Will David Adjaye Design the Obama Presidential Library? [Curbed]
All Obama Library coverage [Chicago Curbed]