Obamas Unveil Design, Goals for New Presidential Library

By Sameer Rao May 04, 2017

Barack and Michelle Obama revealed the design and community-based intent for the first Black president’s forthcoming presidential library on Chicago’s South Side yesterday (May 3) via a video published on their foundation’s YouTube page.

"It’s home, I consider myself a South Sider," Mrs. Obama, who grew up in the city’s historically Black area, says in the clip above. "With a foundation on the South Side of Chicago, we’ll be able to give something back home after this incredible journey," her husband adds. The former first couple lived in the area’s Hyde Park neighborhood before they moved into the White House in 2009.

The video showcases artist renderings of the Obama Presidential Center’s intended design, which includes several stone and glass buildings spread over small rolling hills and tree-filled stretches of land in Jackson Park, a public space on the shore of Lake Michigan. As announced on The Obama Foundation’s website, the center’s facilities will house not just Mr. Obama’s library but also several "classrooms, labs and outdoor spaces" to host "programs that provide visitors with experiences that inspire and tools to make things happen in their own communities."

The former president elaborated on the center’s community focus in a ceremony at the South Shore Cultural Center yesterday. "What we wanted was something that was alive, and that was a hub for the community and for the city and for the country," he said, as quoted by The New York Times.

To that end, he wants the center to include a children’s play area, community gardens, food trucks, a sledding hill and other features intended primarily for area residents. He also mentioned "a studio where [he] can invite Spike Lee and Steven Spielberg to do workshops on how to make films" and "a recording studio where [he] could invite Chance [the Rapper] or Bruce Springsteen, depending on your tastes, to talk about how you could record music that has social commentary and meaning."

The Times reports that the center will cost at least $500 million and be completed by 2021. Architects Tod Williams, Billie Tsien and Dina Griffin designed the center.

Despite assurances that the center will be a community space, the Times says that its construction prompts fears of rapid development and gentrification in the surrounding Woodlawn neighborhood. "I think that it could possibly bring a lot of hope to the community," said Rev. Corey Brooks of the nearby New Beginnings Church of Chicago to the Times. "I would also hope that the library would not gentrify the community."