One man’s library …

Staff Writer

When he was given the chance to have lunch with Barack and Michelle Obama, University of Chicago graduate Michael Sorkin thought he should bring a gift. So he drafted a plan that would put the presidential museum in Woodlawn.

“I always had an interest in Hyde Park and planning and the university and community relations,” Sorkin said. “I once did an unsolicited master plan for the university expansion — that’s probably in the library somewhere.”

Sorkin, who lives and works in New York, won the Design Mind award in 2013 at the National Design Awards from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. Along with that came lunch with the first family.

“I figured if I was going to meet Barack and Michelle I should have something to hand over,” Sorkin said. “We made this proposal, it shouldn’t be mistaken for an architectural proposal, it’s a planning proposal.”

Obama has not yet said where he plans to build a presidential museum after he leaves the Oval Office, though the University of Chicago is considered a strong contender to host it.

In the proposal, Sorkin placed the Obama Presidential Library on 63rd Street between Woodlawn and Ellis avenues. Sorkin also included a school of community organization, a high school of public affairs, and the “Michelle Obama Agricultural Greenway” — a community garden, greenspace and walking path that extends from the south west end of Jackson park and winds its way up through Woodlawn and west of Washington Park.

Sorkin imagined the Barack Obama Museum of African American Politics being added near the DuSable Museum of African American History, and he put a trauma center on 55th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.


He suggested that new residential construction and commercial developments would go along with the proposal.

“It has absolutely no sanction from the university and one of the things I’ve done throughout my career is unsolicited master planning, so it’s kind of an amicus brief for location the library in Woodlawn,” Sorkin said. “It’s to get people thinking about … using all the library as an economic product rather than wall it off or put it in the green field.”

He gave the 32-page booklet outlining the project to Michelle Obama’s staff, since he wasn’t allowed to hand it to her personally when the visited the White House in November. He said he has yet to hear back from the Obamas.

The accompanying text ran as a column in the weekly news magazine The Nation. The text can be found at, alongside this article and more photos from Sorkin’s plans. View Sorkin’s complete plan.