IIT students propose Obama Library on a wider Garfield Boulevard

The proposed library is placed within the context of Washington Park and the University of Chicago campus. -Courtesy of the Illinois Institute of Technology

The proposed library is placed within the context of Washington Park and the University of Chicago campus.
-Courtesy of the Illinois Institute of Technology

By LINDSAY WELBERS
Staff Writer

The architecture students at the Illinois Institute of Technology recently used the possibility of an Obama Presidential Library as a teaching opportunity.

Marshall Brown, associate professor of architecture, led a class in the spring semester where students chose a location for the library and designed a space to fit within the site.

His students proposed that Garfield Boulevard from Washington Park to Shields Avenue be widened to resemble Midway Plaisance and the presidential library be located there.

The site was chosen in part because of its location near the Dan Ryan Expressway, the Green Line and the Red Line — a Metra station could also be added fairly easily.

Additionally, its proximity to Washington Park and to the connected park system known as Chicago’s Emerald Necklace drew the architects to the location.

Brown said the availability of land owned publicly by the City of Chicago and privately, often by the University of Chicago, would make it easier to widen the boulevard.

Because the boulevard would be widened it would allow for green quadrangles and walking spaces as well as urban forests and lagoons.

Among the academic additions to the site, Brown’s students added a magnet school, unrelated to the Barack Obama College Prep High School being planned for the North Side.

A digital rendering of the library campus. -Courtesy of the Illinois Institute of Technology

A digital rendering of the library campus.
-Courtesy of the Illinois Institute of Technology

The library campus would include a green-roofed building, research center, academic village that includes a public policy department and student and academic housing. A hotel would be within walking distance of the main building.

Traffic would still be allowed down the boulevard. Parking garages would be located near the Metra station and the Library.

While the plan does designate a space for retail, Brown said his students’ focus wasn’t on economic development.

“One of the things we wanted to put at the front was not just the economic opportunities, even though there are people all over the city who are unemployed. We wanted to actually up the ante and say that yes all those things are possible but those things are possible first if we think more broadly about how this could really transform the city,” Brown said. “Imagine what we could give to the future of the city as opposed to what we could get.”

An expanded Garfield Boulevard and the presidential library highlighted. -Courtesy of the Illinois Institute of Technology

An expanded Garfield Boulevard and the presidential library highlighted.
-Courtesy of the Illinois Institute of Technology

This was the first semester Brown’s students had proposed a presidential library in-class. He said the exercise gave them the opportunity to imagine what the library could be and what it could potentially do for the city.

“I think what we tried to do is show there is a great opportunity to create a renewed, if not new, civic space for all of Chicago,” Brown said.

l.welbers@hpherald.com