By TONIA HILL
Former President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama publicly unveiled the design for the future Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC)today Wednesday, May 3, at the South Shore Cultural Center 7059 S. Shore Dr.
Obama spoke to a full house at the South Shore Cultural Center. He was joined on stage by Dina Griffin, of Interactive Design Architect, and Michael Strautmanis, vice president of Civic Engagement at the Barack Obama Foundation. Griffin is one of the leaders of the design team for the OPC, in collaboration with Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, of Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects.
The Obama Foundation released the conceptual vision and site map for the structure, which will house a library holding the presidential archives, a museum focusing on the Obama presidency, and space for programs and initiatives that advance the foundation’s public mission.
The design concept released today includes three buildings: the Museum, Forum, and Library. The buildings will form a campus surrounding a public plaza. The OPC will include a state-of-the-art museum, classrooms, labs, and outdoor spaces, and it will conduct programming for visitors intended to provide the tools necessary to spark change in their communities.
In a press release for the event, the Obama Foundation reiterated that the OPC would be more than a building or a museum. The OPC “will be a living, working center for engagement — an ongoing project for the community and world to shape what it means to be an active citizen in the 21st century,” the release reads.
Obama said he wants the OPC to serve as an institution for the next generation so that they can “take up the torch and lead the process” for change. He added that he wants the OPC to be a premiere world institution to train young people in leadership so that they can make a difference in their communities and the world.
Groundbreaking for the project is expected to begin in late 2018 and construction of the building will take about four years, said Obama to a full house at the South Shore Cultural Center.
Though the building is not set to open until 2021, Obama said he wants to start programming and training with young people now.
“The programming we intend to start this year. We don’t want to wait for building. This isn’t just about buildings – it’s about reaching out right now,” Obama said. He noted that when those not from Chicago have conversations, the first thing that comes to mind often is the violence that is plaguing the city.
Obama said starting vocational training and programming this summer will help provide opportunities for young people who can then transition into apprenticeships and gain employment at the OPC.
The Obamas will be working with the city of Chicago, the county and businesses.
To assist in job training and programming, the Obamas will donate $2 million dollars to summer job programs in the city.
“One of the things that this project is going to do is generate jobs. We want to make sure that some of those young people get trained. Let’s start the pipeline now,” Obama said.
The Museum, which is the tallest of the three buildings, will hold exhibition space, public spaces, offices and education and meeting rooms. The Forum and Library buildings will be community resources for study and Foundation programming.
Both the Forum and the Library will be single-story structures with planted roof terraces.
Pathways incorporated within the design takes visitors from the park to landscaped roofs above the library and forum. From the top of the buildings, there is a view of Lake Michigan, the Lagoon and the plaza.
The OPC is designed to “re-establish the South Side’s connection to the Lagoon and Lake Michigan,” according to the press release.
Obama made reference to Millennium Park and Lincoln Park and the park’s features and amenities. He wants Jackson Park to be retransformed into a “people’s park” to honor the legacy of Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux.
“Jackson Park is beautiful. When you drive through the park it feels different than Lincoln Park does,” Obama said. “It feels different than Millennium Park does. It is not used in the same way it is not accessible in the same way. It does not have features of the same sort.”
The design also includes children’s play centers, a sledding hill and outdoor lawn space Obama said of the amenities added to the design. He said they are intended to help people to enjoy the park and visit other spots in Jackson Park, such as the Lagoon and Wooded Islands.
The total size of the OPC will be between 200,000 and 225,000 gross square feet. According to the Foundation’s release, “the concept site plan imagines a re-shaping of the Park that will result in a total net increase in green space for Jackson Park.”
Margaret Schmid and Brenda Nelms, coordinators of Jackson Park Watch, said there is still a need for a comprehensive plan for Jackson Park in its entirety and also noted that there was no mention of the South Shore Golf Complex that is also in the works in Jackson Park.
Other points mentioned at the unveiling include a recommendation by Obama to close Cornell Drive which he said cuts right through the park.
“You can’t have little kids playing next to a road. You can’t have sledding into the road. You can’t walk to the Lagoon because there is no place to cross the street. Let’s restore Jackson Park to the original vision and let’s make sure traffic is accommodated down Lake Shore Drive as well as down along 59th Street.”
When the initial idea came to be too close Cornell Drive, the team conducted traffic studies in consultation with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT).
“We are confident that we will not be adding to commute times as a consequence of closing Cornell. With the most minimal mitigation measures … a commute might be an additional one to three minutes, Obama said.”
Obama said he does not want everyone to be fixated on the traffic and lose sight of what’s possible.
Other changes, according to renderings, include moving the existing athletic track and field just south of where it currently located.
Obama said he expects the OPC to bring in between 600,000 and 700,000 visitors annually.