The Obama Presidential Center
We’re building a campus for active citizenship in the heart of Chicago’s South Side — but it will have projects all across the city, country, and world. The Center is a work in progress, built in direct partnership with thousands of people who have offered their feedback in-person and online. The Obama Presidential Center will be a living, working campus — an ongoing project where we will shape, together, what it means to be a good citizen in the 21st century.
The Obama Presidential Center will be a new landmark for the South Side and an economic engine for the city of Chicago — drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, creating thousands of new jobs on the South Side — and will help to continue the revitalization of historic Jackson Park. The campus will remove barriers and seamlessly connect the park to the lakefront, and will be unified with other local South Side institutions. It will be a place for all seasons, with winding landscapes, a sledding hill, and quiet spaces to read or reflect. The majority of the space will be free and open to the public.
The Forum Building
The Forum is two-story public meeting space, with one story above grade and one below ground, where people of all backgrounds can come together for programming. Visitors might take in a performance in the auditorium, create something in the broadcast studio, visit the public winter garden, or even grab a bite to eat in the restaurant. Like much of the Campus, the majority of this space will be free and open to the public.
The Museum Building
The Museum building is a tower — representing ascension, hope, and what ordinary people have the power to do together. Its design was inspired by a photo of four hands coming together. Like these hands, each facade of the four-sided tower will be a little different from the next — enhanced with texture and detail, and offering a beautiful and unique experience from all angles.
The Museum will serve as a landmark for the Campus, welcoming visitors to the Center, Jackson Park, and the South Side — but will have a relatively small footprint within the Campus. Its lower floors will house exhibitions that tell the Obamas’ story, as situated within the context of history: civil rights history, African-American history, the history of Chicago, and United States history. The rest of the building will be filled with other public spaces, including the top floor which will feature a reflective observation space that will be free and open to the public, with spectacular views of Lake Michigan and Jackson Park.
The Library Building
The Library Building is the third main building of the campus — a portal for visitors to engage with the world beyond the Obama Presidential Center. More than a building housing documents from the past, we want this to be a place for visitors to play a real role in building our collective future. With that in mind, to tap into the existing learning network within the city, the Foundation is currently exploring the possibility of a partnership with the Chicago Public Library.
The Museum, Forum, and Library Buildings will wrap around a community-facing public plaza that will act as another gateway into the park. We’re envisioning the plaza as a sort of town square for the local community — a place for informal and planned gatherings alike. It will host performances of all types — from celebrations honoring local figures to markets and fairs. There will be play areas, an indoor athletic facility, walking paths, and even a sledding hill. It will be a space for all seasons — for folks from all walks of life.
The Athletic Center
The Athletic Center will invite the community to take part in physical activity year round, highlighting the importance of teamwork and exercise through sports. It will provide opportunities for programming partnerships with local institutions, including Hyde Park Academy, the South Side YMCA, and the Chicago Park District Field House.
Meet the Architects
The architecture and design firms dreaming up this space alongside us are Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners (TWBTA) and Interactive Design Architects (IDEA) as their partner. TWBTA stood out to the Obamas in their commitment to explore the best ways of creating an innovative center for citizenship, while IDEA brings local knowledge and a track record for delivering excellence to large, complex civic projects.
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) will lead our landscape architect team in partnership with Site Design Group and Living Habitats, two Chicago-based firms. This highly skilled and diverse team stood out in their commitment to creating accessible public spaces that honor their environment, community, and history.
How We Got Here
Building a local team
When selecting the team that would build this campus, our top priority was making sure we were creating opportunities for local businesses and building pathways toward meaningful jobs for minorities and other underrepresented populations in the Chicago area.
The Construction Manager of the Center will be Lakeside Alliance — comprised of Turner Construction, and the Presidential Partners consortium of Powers & Sons Construction, UJAMAA Construction, Brown & Momen, and Safeway Construction. Powers & Sons, UJAMAA, Brown & Momen, and Safeway are some of the most established and well-respected African-American owned construction firms in Chicago.
Committing to diversity.
The Obama Foundation belongs as much to the people of the South Side as it does the Obamas — and we’re looking first to local residents to help build it, in every way. In our first year, we announced our plans to hire a diversity consultant to prioritize the hiring of local, diverse residents for construction and subcontracting.
Supporting thousands of Chicago jobs.
In addition to empowering and connecting people from around the country and the world, the Obama Presidential Center will also be a boon to the local economy. During its construction and first ten years of operations, the Center is estimated to create thousands of new jobs and infuse $3.1 billion into the local Chicago economy.
Announcing our plans.
In May of 2017, we first announced the preliminary designs of the Obama Presidential Center campus in Jackson Park. In the months to come, over the course of public feedback sessions — from in-person meetings to digital surveys — we continued to iterate on those designs.
Finding our home.
“All the strands of my life came together and I really became a man when I moved to Chicago. That’s where I was able to apply that early idealism to try to work in communities in public service. That’s where I met my wife. That’s where my children were born.” – President Barack Obama
For the Obamas, selecting the South Side of Chicago as the location for the Obama Presidential Center represents both a return home and an investment in the city’s future — allowing the Foundation to encourage and affect change locally, and showcase the South Side to the rest of the world.