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Chicago, IL - In conjunction with the 2019 Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago, the Obama Foundation is releasing new renderings and a model of the refined design for the Obama Presidential Center (OPC).

“We’ve spent the past few years talking with the community and meeting with neighbors and stakeholders to incorporate their input on how the residents of the South Side and the city of Chicago want to experience the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park,” said David Simas, CEO of the Obama Foundation. “In response to the feedback we received, we’re presenting updates that create even more ways for the community to enjoy what will become an important and memorable gathering place.”

Obama Presidential Center Site

The Obama Presidential Center will occupy 19.3 acres within the 550-acre Jackson Park. The site is located at the western edge of the park along South Stony Island in an area that has been underutilized and, with the addition of Cornell Drive, disconnected from the rest of the landscape. The Center’s architectural footprint occupies just over two acres, with structures integrated into and with the surrounding parkscape, effectively revitalizing this area of Jackson Park. In keeping with the Frederick Law Olmsted’s ethos of creating parks for the people, the majority of the OPC site will remain open park space for the community.

Landscape Stewardship

The condition of the site today has several challenges, including the poor health of the trees, plantings that don’t offer enough biodiversity or environmental benefits, tenuous soil quality, and non-compliance with the City of Chicago stormwater ordinance.

The landscape design of the OPC offers an opportunity to solve for those challenges while fostering greater sustainability and supporting the long-term ecological health of the site. Landscape sustainability features include:

  • a one-acre wetland area that will capture and treat stormwater and feature a “Wetland Walk” that threads through the area and offers a unique environment with seating, a tree canopy, and a place for children to play;

  • the Women’s Garden, which preserves the signature circular form and location of the historic sunken lawn, with a new enlarged perennial garden that captures and treats rainwater encircling the garden;

  • more trees than exist on the site today; and

  • soil harvesting that will allow the site to benefit from soil microbes that exist today, with new soils in areas where existing soil is depleted.

OPC Campus

The OPC campus includes a public plaza and four buildings, three of which are partially embedded into the land to remain quiet and low, more effectively integrating these structures into the surrounding parkscape.

The fourth building, the Museum Building, is designed as a landmark for Chicago’s South Side and serves as a timeless symbol of hope. The general shape and proportions of the structure were inspired by the form created when four hands come together. The building’s verticality represents the idea of ascension and the power of what people can do when they come together. The museum galleries have been intentionally stacked — instead of arranged horizontally — to create a much smaller footprint in the landscape. The height reinforces the experience of progress as guests journey from the park, into the museum’s public spaces, and up through the gallery exhibitions.

The experience culminates in a space known as the Sky Room, which will offer unparalleled views of the neighboring South Side, Jackson Park, and Chicago’s waterfront. The Sky Room is open to the public and can be accessed without museum admission.

Design Updates

The form and detailing of the Museum Building has been refined to be more organic in form and to appear more elegant and inviting as visitors approach from all directions. Specifically, the design team has worked to:

  • Make the building more sculptural and create a more deliberate connection to the ground; incisions on the southwest and southeast corner helped reduce the building’s profile from multiple directions, and the faceted stone will reflect the changing daylight;

  • Further reduce the solidity of the structure by introducing an 88-foot expanse of glass that will have clear windows at the mezzanine level, and emit a soft welcoming glow; and

  • Wrap the middle southeast corner with a textured stone. Initially slated to display carved text, this area will now have a simpler finish.

In addition, the Obama Foundation is also releasing details about the Children’s Play Area. This space will feature a large playground with innovative play equipment designed for children of all ages and with input from South Side community members, parents, educators, and families from across Chicago. The design of this area celebrates the natural world and environment of Jackson Park, with lagoon and woodland-themed recreational opportunities to stir imaginations and encourage exploration. It will offer four seasons of play, with plenty of seating and shade for parents and adults.

The two-acre Play Area will be composed of two connected but distinct areas. The lower level is lagoon-themed, with play equipment that comes in the form of larger-than-life animals such as the endangered Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly. Child-size nests, flowers, and lilypads will complement the lagoon theme, as will a rolling blue ground surface. Connected by an area of climbable stumps, planks, and rocks (as well as accessible and stroller-friendly routes), the upper level features a woodland-themed area with a “climbing forest” of large wooden play structures, nest swings, a large sand area, a picnic zone, and embankment slides that take advantage of the grade created by the Foundation's decision to locate the Center's public garage entirely underground. A designated stroller parking area will help reduce clutter, and all of the larger areas of the playground have abundant and well-placed seating for caregivers.

You can view the new renderings with more detailed descriptions about the Center’s amenities HERE.


Contact: Courtney Williams, [email protected]