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Breaking: Obama Library Will Be Designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects

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The high-profile Chicago architecture commission is expected to open in 2021

Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects has won the long-running competition to design the Obama Presidential Library, according to a post on the Obama Foundation's website. According to an announcement from the Obama Foundation, the multi-year search for a site and designer, which included 140 entries from around the world, has come one step closer to completion with the choice of the husband-and-wife duo. The foundation said TWBSA "stood out in their commitment to explore the best ways of creating an innovative center for action that inspires communities and individuals to take on our biggest challenges." Interactive Design Architects (IDEA), a Chicago-based firm, will be their partners on the project.

A husband-and-wife team known for their considered, rigorous approach to museum design as well as user experience, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien have created exceptional institutional spaces. A researcher at a medical research facility the duo designed in La Jolla, California, the Neurosciences Institute, even said the facility was so conducive to collaboration that it helped doctors make discoveries they wouldn’t have made otherwise.

Williams and Tsien are best known for the educational and institutional works, including the Cranbrook Natatorium on the campus of the Michigan arts college, the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, and the American Museum of Folk Art in New York City, a prized Manhattan building that was demolished in 2014 to make way a new MoMA expansion.

This won’t be the pair’s first commission in Chicago. They also designed the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, a multidisciplinary arts facility for the University of Chicago celebrated for its sleek design and gracious integration of multiple specialized spaces and requirements.

After deliberating among multiple sites, including in New York and Hawaii, the Obama Foundation chose Chicago as the home of the library last year, specifically two parcels of parkland in Jackson or Washington Park on the city’s South Side. In a scramble to qualify for the Library, the City of Chicago passed a controversial, last-minute ordinance donating prized parkland to the cause. During a press conference this afternoon, architecture critic Paul Goldberger, who served as an advisor for the foundation during the selection process, says no decision has been made on the final site. Each finalists presented conceptual ideas for both potential sites, but the true design process begins now.

In March, the Obama Foundation announced a list of seven finalists, a roster that hinted at the First Couple’s appreciation for modern architecture: Adjaye Associates (London), Diller Scofidio + Renfro (New York), John Ronan Architects (Chicago), Renzo Piano Building Workshop (Genova, Italy), SHoP Architects (New York), Snøhetta (New York) and Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects (New York). According to a tipster, three of the finalists were invited to make a final presentation at the White House: TWBTA, SHoP, and Snøhetta. Architect David Adjaye had repeatedly been cited as a favorite of the Obamas throughout coverage of the selection process.

Estimated to cost more than $500 million, the Obama Presidential Library is expected to open in by 2021. The organization’s mission statement suggests the building will function as a gathering place for "ongoing projects and initiatives," and be a digital-first facility with a museum, archives, and offices. Its location in a major city has sparked speculation as to how it may function as a base for Obama’s post-presidential work, despite the First Couple’s decision to remain in Washington, D.C. after leaving the White House.

The architects also released a statement about the project:

We believe that architecture is the coming together of art and use, and can bring a sense of grace to life. The greatest buildings are places, which contribute to more than their particular task by elevating and improving the world.

We are deeply moved by the mission of the Obama Foundation and the role the Center can play in empowering that mission. It is a joy, an honor, and a responsibility to create a place that reflects the optimism and integrity of the President and the First Lady. This has been a transformative presidency and we will work to make a Center that embodies and expands the Obamas’ vision. We look forward to collaborating with our partners, Interactive Design Architects, and to working with the South Side community.

We have chosen to work on only a few projects at a time, to allow for intense personal involvement in all aspects of the design and construction of a building. This work should reflect optimism and love. The spiritual aspect of the work will emerge if the work is done well.

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