Four months after a district judge ruled that a lawsuit against the potential Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Chicago would be allowed to proceed—stalling construction until its conclusion—a federal judge has tossed out the case on June 11. The lawsuit was filed by the environmental group Protect Our Parks and three other community groups against both the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District, arguing that the Obama Foundation’s plan to place the OPC in the Olmsted and Vaux–designed Jackson Park was illegal. Protect Our Parks argued that, because the Center wouldn’t actually be a government-run presidential library but a privately-run museum tower, complete with parking, a training center, and 5,000-square-foot Chicago Public Library location, the land transfer from the city to the Obama Foundation was invalid. However, in a 52-page written decision (viewable here), U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey ruled that the public benefits offered by the museum would still constitute a public good, and, in his view, merit the land transfer. The OPC, according to a written statement from Blakely, “surely provides a multitude of benefits to the public. It will offer a range of cultural, artistic, and recreational opportunities…as well as provide increased access to other areas of Jackson Park and the Museum of Science and Industry.” Blakely added that there will be no halt in construction to the Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and Interactive Design Architects–planned $500 million, 20-acre campus as a result. After the ruling, Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a statement in favor of building the OPC in Jackson Park. “Chicago is where President Obama discovered his love for community service,” wrote Lightfoot, “and the Obama Presidential Center will honor his presidency and inspire the next generation of leaders. The court today made unequivocally clear that this project may be located in Jackson Park, marking a significant step forward in this historic project and for our entire city. I am committed to ensuring that this community hub creates unprecedented cultural opportunities and economic growth on the South Side.” While this wasn’t the ruling that Protect Our Parks was hoping for, the coalition of plaintiffs has vowed to appeal. The group was hoping to force the Obama Foundation to move the Center to a privately-owned lot to the southwest. Aside from the forthcoming appeal, this isn’t the last hurdle the OPC faces. Dropping a 20-acre project into a park listed on the National Register of Historic Places requires a federal review, which is still ongoing. “Today’s ruling, while disappointing, is by no means the final word,” said Charles A. Birnbaum, president and CEO of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, in a statement. The Foundation is an “official consulting party” in the federal review process and has made its opposition to siting the OPC in Jackson Park clear. “Though the carefully orchestrated local approvals process has been enabled by pliant municipal officials, there are still federal-level reviews underway for this nationally significant work of landscape architecture that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.”
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Another Tod Williams Billie Tsien project appears to be headed for the wrecking ball. After years of planning and fundraising, Johns Hopkins University president Ronald J. Daniels announced this month that a new student center will be built for its Homewood campus at the intersection of Charles and 33rd Streets in Baltimore. The property chosen for the new building includes the current site of the Mattin Center, a 2001 arts complex designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. Administrators indicate it will likely be demolished to make way for the student center. The announcement already has people upset. The Mattin Center would join the former American Folk Art Museum in New York on the list of Williams and Tsien buildings that have been leveled and replaced with even larger projects. Opened in 2001 like the Mattin Center, the Folk Art Museum was razed in 2014 to make way for an expansion of the Museum of Modern Art, currently under construction. The demolition was one of the biggest preservation controversies in the nation that year. Tsien has said she was unable to go by the site while the building was coming down and long afterward. There has been talk in Baltimore for the past several years that Hopkins was eying the Mattin Center as the site for a new student center, but administrators said they didn’t want to confirm anything until they had raised enough money to move ahead with the project. Hopkins is one of the few major universities in the United States that doesn’t have a full-fledged student center or student union on its main campus, and Daniels has wanted to build one to keep Hopkins competitive with other colleges and universities. On March 5, Daniels announced that the project is moving ahead with a target completion date of 2024. Without dwelling on demolition, his announcement was the most definitive statement he has made to date about securing funds and replacing the Mattin Center, which was built by a previous administration as a home for the visual and performing arts on campus. “As the needs of our student body have evolved, so has the desire for a different and dedicated student center taken hold,” he wrote in a message to the Hopkins community. “This will be a new kind of space for us—one that is not academically focused, but entirely social by design…It will be a site to which everyone lays equal claim and from which everyone benefits.” Planning for the student center began in 2013 when Hopkins formed a task force. A year later, it hired Ann Beha Architects of Boston and Gustafson Guthrie Nichol of Seattle to conduct a feasibility study and develop a preliminary design. Hopkins administrators have indicated the student center will cost between $100 million and $150 million. According to university spokesperson Karen Lancaster, an architect has not been selected and a final cost has not been determined, but “we have the funding we need to commit to this project” through a combination of institutional and philanthropic sources, including pledges from anonymous donors. The Mattin Center is the only project in Baltimore by Williams and Tsien. It cost $17 million and consists of three brick-clad structures that frame an open courtyard and together contain 50,000 square feet of arts-related spaces, including dance and visual arts studios, a digital media center, black box theater, music practice rooms, and café. It occupies a prominent site near the gateway to Hopkins’s Homewood campus, between the main academic buildings and the Charles Village neighborhood to the east. That site is largely what seems to have doomed the Mattin Center, because campus planners wanted to put the new student center in a “welcoming” location. At the nexus of town and gown, the Mattin Center site met their requirements more than any other property. According to Johns Hopkins’s news site, Hub, the final location was selected “based on the flow of students on and off campus from the Charles Street corridor and on its proximity to the heart of Homewood activity.” The Mattin Center’s size was also an issue, Lancaster said in an email. “While the building is less than 20 years old, our space requirements have evolved over time and the building, as designed, is not adequate to fulfill many of these specific needs—such as the larger gathering venues our students seek today.” In a further sign that Hopkins intends to demolish the Mattin Center, Lancaster noted that one of the next steps will be to figure out where to move the people and activities now based there. If the Mattin Center were to remain, planning for long-term relocation wouldn’t be necessary. “As part of the design and planning process,” Lancaster said, “we will be determining options for where to locate the groups and programs that are currently housed in the Mattin Center—both in the short-term during construction and permanently once a new center is opened.” Although the building’s design won a 2002 award from the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, it has drawn criticism locally for “turning its back” on the city. “It represents the end of an era when the university faced inward and was moving very gingerly to interact with the community,” said Sandra Sparks, former president of the Charles Village Civic Association, which represents the neighborhood next to the Hopkins campus. Williams and Tsien were selected by Hopkins after participating in a limited competition to design the arts center. The other competitors were Bohlin Cywinski Jackson of Pennsylvania and Heikkinen Komonen Architects of Finland. When they learned several years ago that Hopkins was considering razing their building, Tsien and Williams issued a lengthy statement defending its design. In it, they said Hopkins administrators at the time had expressed a desire for a secure setting. “When we won the competition to design the Mattin Center in the late 1990s, the City of Baltimore was a much tougher, more dangerous place,” they wrote. “A student, a musician, had been recently killed in a wooded section of the proposed site. So the university chose our design over the two others in part, because they wanted a protective environment for students to pursue their artistic interests which, at that time, were considered extracurricular. “The administration was concerned about the physical security of the students. The suggested program was not so large and that allowed us to organize spaces…around a large exterior courtyard at the heart of the site.” In their statement, the architects acknowledged that the university’s and the city’s needs have changed. They lamented that they weren’t involved in future planning for the site. “Today there is a desire to create a more direct connection to the city and for more socializing spaces for students,” they said. “The site of the Mattin Center is an important one for the University and campus, and we believe it can accommodate additional density and change. If the administration elects to demolish the Mattin Center, it should not be without very serious debate…because to do so is unimaginative, and unsustainable, and because it does not acknowledge the layers of history that are crucial to an understanding of our culture, our campuses, and our cities.”
AN reached out to the firm last week but wasn’t given further information on Williams and Tsien’s thoughts about the recent announcement. In an email, the firm wrote: “We are aware of Johns Hopkins’s plan to build a new student center at the Mattin Center site, however, we do not know of any additional details regarding its development at this time.” The student center is one of several major projects that Hopkins has underway in Baltimore and Washington. Last fall it selected the Renzo Piano Building Workshop and Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore to design the home for a new interdisciplinary center called the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute. In January, the school announced plans to buy the Newseum in Washington, D. C., and convert it into a new home for its academic programs there. An architect for that project has not been announced. For its medical campus, Hopkins has hired William Rawn Associates of Boston and Hord Coplan Macht of Baltimore to design an addition to its school of nursing.
if i am reading the dean's letter properly, @JohnsHopkins is planning to demolish the fine tod williams billie tsien designed mattin arts complex to build a new student center. NOT HAPPY. pic.twitter.com/VzrGdd9Wkp— mark lamster (@marklamster) March 6, 2019
U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey has ruled that a lawsuit against Chicago’s proposed Obama Presidential Center (OPC) can proceed, potentially delaying construction by months or even years. The OPC campus is looking to carve out 19.3 acres from the historic Olmsted and Vaux–designed Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side. Despite being approved by the Chicago City Council in May of last year, the $500 million project has been held up by a still-pending federal review process and work stoppages at adjacent sites in the park. Construction on the Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and Interactive Design–planned campus was expected to begin sometime this year, but it seems that community concerns may shake up that timeline. A lawsuit filed against Chicago and the Chicago Park District by the environmental group Protect Our Parks and three others argues that the Obama Foundation’s intrusion into the park, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is illegal. That’s in part because the Center won’t actually be a presidential library. Instead, the campus will contain a squat, stone-clad museum tower, training center, parking garage, and community hub, as well as a 5,000-square-foot Chicago Public Library offshoot, with President Obama’s archives stored offsite and digitized. That distinction is important, as the OPC will be a privately-run institution instead of a government project and Protect Our Parks has argued that this should invalidate the land transfer from the city to the Obama Foundation. The group isn’t against the construction of the center but would prefer that it be moved somewhere else on the South Side if possible. The spat is reminiscent of George Lucas’s battle with the public space advocacy group Friends of the Parks in 2016. After a similar lawsuit over the Museum of Narrative Arts and its place on the Lake Michigan waterfront was allowed to proceed, Lucas instead canceled development and shipped the spaceship-like museum out to Los Angeles. Supporters of the OPC have expressed fear that the Obama Foundation may change its plans and leave Chicago if the project is allowed to languish. “The Obama Foundation and the University of Chicago created this controversy by insisting on the confiscation of public parkland,” said president and CEO of the Cultural Landscape Foundation Charles A. Birnbaum in a statement. “The Obama Foundation could make this issue go away by using vacant and/or city-owned land on the South Side for the Obama Presidential Center (which is planned to be a private facility rather than a presidential library administered by the National Archives), or, better still, land owned by the University of Chicago, which submitted the winning bid to host the Center.” The OPC was originally expected to open in 2021, but it remains to be seen whether the project will go ahead as planned. Although Protect Our Parks was victorious, Judge Blakey’s ruling only affirms the group’s right to sue, not that their argument is correct.
Up close, the newly reopened Hood Museum of Art exudes a quiet confidence uncommon in large-scale institutional projects. The architecture, lightly brutalist in form, doesn’t command attention from afar or overwhelm the small campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. It’s simply inviting. And the same goes for the inside. The design team behind the $50 million renovation and expansion project, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects (TWBTA), will be the first to say its intervention is meant to focus a visitor’s experience on the art, not the architecture. But that doesn’t mean the architecture isn’t vital; it’s a backdrop, the architects say. This is an important lesson the pair has been trying to learn throughout the four-decade partnership. “As you grow older, you develop a sense of confidence in yourself,” said Tsien. “When you’re more confident, I think it’s less important that you declare yourself in the architecture.” In the case of the revamped Hood Museum, the firm's own quiet confidence translates into the museum’s bold, yet restrained new look. Situated on a campus full of 19th-century, Georgian-style buildings, the Hood Museum is tucked between a cramped series of structures lining the southern edge of Dartmouth’s historic green—a red-brick library, a glassy performing arts center from the '60s, and a Machado Silvetti–designed visual arts center completed in 2012. The original museum building, which TWBTA meticulously renovated, was designed in 1985 by Charles Moore during his tenure at Centerbrook Architects. In recent years, museum staff started to notice serious structural problems within the building and complained about its outdated interior layout, as well as its lack of light. The staff also needed a larger space for their own offices, due to an ever-growing team, and more teaching facilities to accommodate the 40 departments that use the museum’s 65,000-piece collection for study throughout the year. The school hired TWBTA to build on Moore’s legacy by adding 16,350 square feet to the existing site, while simultaneously improving wayfinding, smoothing circulation, and bringing light into the formerly dark facility. The design team, led by Azadeh Rashidi, reconfigured the museum’s public-facing identity by creating a new boxy, off-white brick facade that cantilevers over the main entrance and an adjacent pathway. A 14-square-foot vitrine window was cut on the right side of the front facade to tease passersby with a glimpse into the museum’s new sculpture gallery. Williams and Tsien credit the museum’s dedicated staff and curators in helping them calm down their vision for the building so the art could “speak for itself.” The two were compelled to design from the inside out, they said. “We do care about the outside of the building,” said Tsien, “but we really do think about the experience first and foremost. We’re always trying to focus on finding a balance between rest and quiet as well as excitement and movement.” The firm’s 21st-century expansion added six new galleries to the Hood Museum, bringing the total from 10 to 16 galleries spread out over two floors. TWBTA also tripled the number teaching spaces by creating three classrooms within the new Bernstein Center for Object Study, where students can directly engage with single works of art pulled from the museum’s encyclopedic collection. They additionally built out a light-filled office space for museum staff on the top floor and designed a double-height, flex-use atrium connecting the entrance to the adjacent Hopkins Center for Arts. According to the architects, the new lobby can also be a performance or gathering space. To create all this new space, TWBTA had to make a controversial change to the existing Moore building that solicited serious criticism in 2016. They filled in a large, sweeping courtyard that previously served as a gateway from the Green to the surrounding arts buildings and downtown Hanover. The new construction straightened out the Hood Museum and removed a Romanesque archway at the front of the structure that signaled its presence on campus and led visitors to the museum’s actual entrance beyond. John Stomberg, Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director of the Hood Museum, said the move was pivotal for allowing the museum to grow into the modern era and expand its art collection. “We challenged Tod and Billie with the hard task of making a beautiful space that couldn’t increase beyond its current idiosyncratic location,” he said. “What they came up with was an idea so eloquent that it immediately seemed natural. It requires an extended visit to understand how deeply and completely it solves all of the museum’s dilemmas.”
New England might not garner the attention that other places get for contemporary architecture, but the region has a legacy of world-class architecture, including some great works of modernism. Two iconic monuments of modern architecture in America are in New England—Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center at Harvard and Alvar Aalto’s Baker House at MIT—along with seminal late-modern buildings such as Boston City Hall and the Yale Center for British Art. Today, many contemporary design stars have built structures across New England, including Frank Gehry, Rafael Moneo, Norman Foster, Herzog & de Meuron, Michael Hopkins, Renzo Piano, Charles Correa, Fumihiko Maki, and Tadao Ando. The finalists for a competition for a new contemporary art museum on Boston’s waterfront included Switzerland’s Peter Zumthor and Studio Granda from Iceland. The only local firm considered for the museum was the then relatively young Office dA; principals Nader Tehrani and Monica Ponce de León went on to fame as architectural educators beyond Boston. Although not unique to New England, the whole mentality of "if-you-are-good-you-must-be-from-somewhere-else" is found here. As one might expect, Boston is the center of most architectural activity in the region. Yet, despite a heroic postwar age of Brutalism, too much contemporary architecture barely rises above the level of commercial real estate. With the exception of Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Institute of Contemporary Art and David Hacin’s District Hall, much of the frantic new downtown construction features the kind of glass boxes that pierce city skylines from Dubai to Shanghai. The city’s embarrassingly named Innovation District (often called the Inundation District due to its propensity for flooding) is scaleless, overbearing, and disconnected from the soul of Boston. OMA’s new scheme for the area—which the architects gratuitously refer to as “a dynamic and vibrant area that is quickly emerging as one of the most exciting neighborhoods and destinations in the country”—is an 18-story glass cube with the dreary moniker of 88 Seaport Boulevard. One might have hoped for more from OMA’s first Boston commission. The block will offer almost half a billion square feet of office space, 60,000 square feet of retail, and a paltry 5,000 square feet for civic and cultural use. Its gimmick is slicing the building into two sections with some terracing and plantings sandwiched in between. OMA disingenuously claims this double-volume exercise “creates diverse typologies for diverse industries,” and furthermore “generates an opportunity to draw in the district’s public domain.” In short, Boston will get an off-the-shelf dystopian nightmare. However, the Engineering Research Center at Brown University by KieranTimberlake is not just another knockoff. Although flush from the controversial but triumphant U.S. Embassy in London, the Philadelphians’ latest New England project is what good contemporary architecture ought to be. The $88-million, 80,000-square-foot laboratory and classroom building is both understated and environmentally responsible. Its 22 pristine labs steer the Ivy League school into uncharted territory in nano research, energy studies, and information technology. The ERC is a triumph, especially given Brown’s decades of struggle to find an appropriate contemporary architectural voice. Recent work on the Providence campus includes an international relations institute by Rafael Viñoly—the design of which was dumbed down to mollify historic preservationists; a tepid Maya Lin sculpture; and an awkwardly sited Diller Scofidio + Renfro art center that was commissioned to show that Brown could do trendy and edgy. These common missteps are best exemplified by the university’s first competition for an athletic center. Although the competition was officially won by SHoP, the donor sponsoring it declared his dislike of modern architecture and demanded the school hire Robert A.M. Stern instead. The cutesy Georgian result is predictably bland. The ERC was ahead of schedule and under budget, and rather than treating Rhode Islanders as rubes, the architects created what Stephen Kieran calls “a nice piece of Providence urbanism.” While the firm’s great strength is diminishing the environmental impact of their buildings, the ERC also contributes a handsome facade to the campus’s traditional buildings. The fiberglass-reinforced concrete fins, the building’s signature element, impose a timeless probity worthy of Schinkel. If KieranTimberlake grows weary of being identified as the designers of the $1-billion embassy that Trump slammed as “lousy and horrible,” imagine how tired Tod Williams and Billie Tsien must be of consistently being tagged with the label “designers of the Obama Library.” Is a client choosing them because of the reflected fame? Will all new works by the New York-based architects be measured against that Chicago shrine? Yet Williams and Tsien have created a number of noteworthy academic works in New England that deserve similar attention, including buildings at Bennington and Dartmouth. Their theater and dance building at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, is almost complete. Here, the very long shadow is not cast by the architects’ own projects, but by Louis Kahn’s library across campus. Kahn’s brick tribute to 19th-century Yankee mills—and the symmetry of Georgian style—is one of the great pieces of architecture in New England. The big block of the drama building by Williams and Tsien wisely does not choose to echo Kahn but is curiously almost a throwback to the early Brutalism of I. M. Pei. It establishes a more rugged character with a marvelous texture composed of gray Roman bricks. A more satisfying Granite State structure by Williams and Tsien is a library, archives, and exhibition complex at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. MacDowell is a century-old artists’ colony where thousands of painters, writers, and musicians, including James Baldwin, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Willa Cather, have sought quiet and isolation in a collection of rustic cabins in the woods. Thornton Wilder wrote his classic play Our Town during his time here. Williams and Tsien’s sensitive addition to the colony’s 1920s library is only 3,000 square feet, cost around $2 million, and is an exquisitely crafted gem. The single-story library is constructed of a nearly black granite. Set in a birch grove created by the leading modern landscape architects in Boston, Reed Hilderbrand, this gathering place for residents appears at one with the rocky soil and forests of Northern New England. A 23-foot-tall outdoor chimney flanking the entrance plaza to the library makes reference to the hearths in all of the MacDowell studios. It also looks like a primitive stele, giving the entire ensemble an aspect that is more primal than modern. Another prominent New York architect, Toshiko Mori, has produced a simple yet elegant warehouse for an art museum in the faded seaport and art destination of Rockland, Maine. Built to house a long-time contemporary art cooperative that had no permanent collection and only inadequate facilities for exhibitions and classes, the saw-toothed clerestories at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) make reference to New England factories while bringing in what the architect calls “that special Maine light.” Like those functional structures, Mori used economical, non-custom materials such as plasterboard and corrugated zinc that wrap the exterior, embracing the lack of funds to her advantage. Despite the nod to Rockland’s working class vibe, Mori created a thoughtfully wrought sophisticated work of art on an unremarkable side street. Mori’s Japanese heritage comes through in her subtle proportions based on a 4-foot grid. The CMCA offers a refreshing contrast to extravagantly costly new museums by superstar architects—the 11,000-square-foot arts center cost only $3.5 million. Mori has crafted a museum based on flexibility rather than attitude. A summer resident of nearby North Haven, she endowed her simple statement with an air of Yankee frugality. But perhaps the most encouraging new project is the $52-million John W. Olver Design Building at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. A cooperative venture of three departments in three different colleges—architecture, landscape, and building technology—the autumn-hued, aluminum-wrapped school embodies the dynamic spirit of New England’s first publicly supported architecture program. The 87,000-square-foot studio and administrative space is the work of Boston–based Leers Weinzapfel and landscape designer Stephen Stimson, with contributions from the faculty-cum-clients. Construction Technology chair Alexander Schreyer, for example, a guru of heavy-timber structural systems, helped fashion what is perhaps the largest wood-frame building on the East Coast. The zipper trusses that span the 84-by-56-foot, two-story-high common area demonstrate the inventiveness of wood technology. The glulam trusses arrived on-site precut and were snapped together with pins. In short, the academic contributors got to show off their research and also benefit from it. In a region noted for some of the nation’s oldest and most renowned design schools, the Design Building announces the arrival of the new kid on the block. Its handsome envelope is pierced by asymmetrically placed tall and narrow fenestration as a nod to the doors of the tobacco barns that are the university’s neighbors in Massachusetts’s Pioneer Valley. From its roots as a fledgling offering in the art department in the early 1970s, design education at UMass has grown into a powerhouse. As the core of a complex of postwar and contemporary architecture, the Design Building helps to bring Roche Dinkeloo’s Brutalist Fine Arts Center into contact with a business school designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). While BIG’s work is sometimes incredibly innovative, the firm’s UMass project looks as if it might be another example of a second-tier work foisted on a boondocks location. Less flashy than its newer neighbor, Leers Weinzapfel’s Design Building is nonetheless a bold, homegrown achievement. New England’s patrimony is a tapestry of local and outside talent. A significant regional building would not be a postmodern structure in the shape of a lighthouse or a neotraditional re-creation of a Richardson library, but something like the UMass studios. Capturing the spirit of the best of New England design depends little upon reputation and huge expenditure. Rather, there is a direct correlation between realizing a quality work of art and understanding the region’s history of wresting a hard-won life from the granite earth. The challenge for successfully practicing architecture in New England is accepting an uncompromising intellectual toughness that demands respect for the eminently practical as well as the aspirational.
Up to 40 trees, some of them decades old, were reportedly cut down in Chicago’s historic Jackson Park on August 6 as part of construction associated with the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) campus. Despite a pending lawsuit and ongoing federal review, construction crews were reportedly spotted demolishing baseball fields in Jackson Park to make way for an OPC-funded track-and-field facility in the same spot. The new field is being constructed at a cost of $3.5 million to compensate the city and Chicago Park District for the current track and field that will be swallowed up by the 19.3-acre campus. The $500 million campus, master planned by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, has already seen its fair share of pushback from the community since its unveiling in 2016. First, a controversial parking facility was moved underground after complaints that its presence would spoil the Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux-designed landscape and the accompanying Midway Plaisance. The buildings themselves were redesigned to sit within the park better the next day. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, OPC executives had pledged not to cut down any trees until the project had passed review and they had obtained the proper permits. However, this promise appears to have only counted work on the main campus, and not associated work. As The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) points out, the new field is inextricably linked to the main project and is tied to the OPC’s construction timetable. When the Sun-Times asked about the discrepancy, Obama Foundation officials reportedly declined to confirm that the new field was part of the OPC, telling the paper that “the construction schedule put forward by the Chicago Park District ensures the new track will be ready for students and fall sports leagues.” Additionally, the federal lawsuit filed in May by preservationist group Protect Our Parks was rebuked by lawyers from the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District in June, who argued that as the City Council hasn’t given the project approval yet, any lawsuit was premature. The Chicago City Council won’t vote on the project until the fall, and no construction is supposed to occur until the twice-delayed federal review concludes. According to the Chicago Tribune, the groundbreaking for the campus has been pushed to 2019. No update has been given on whether this will change the projected 2021 opening date. On August 8, TCLF delivered a letter with their concerns to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a federal advisory body on historic preservation. The felling of the trees in a park listed in the National Register of Historic Places and what the Foundation feels is a lack of due diligence by the City of Chicago to look into the site’s archeological significance were addressed. AN will follow this story up as more news about the Center breaks.
Paul Lewis, FAIA, and principal and co-founder of New York’s Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis (LTL Architects), has succeeded Billie Tsien to become the Architectural League of New York’s 62nd President. Tatiana Bilbao and photographer Kris Graves were also elected to join the League’s board. At the League’s 137th annual meeting on June 27 at the Cooper Union's Arthur A. Houghton Jr. Gallery, members voted to elect Lewis president and replace outgoing President Tsien, who had served from 2014 through 2018; Tsien will stay on the League’s Board of Directors. Bilbao has been elevated to a member of the League’s Class of 2021, and Graves has become the new Vice-President for Photography. At the annual meeting, League executive director Rosalie Genevro spoke on Tsien’s lasting contributions to the organization, explicitly her “manifold generosity, generosity that extends from deep interest in and enthusiasm for the work presented by the League’s myriad competition winners, lecturers, writers, and photographers, to willingness to use any and all contacts she may have on behalf of the League, to unstinting commitment of time to League affairs, to open-handed financial support—and readiness to encourage others to be supporters as well. “The last two years of Billie’s service have coincided, as we all know well, with a very fraught political climate. She has been clear about the importance of organizations such as the League standing strong as proponents of a pluralist, diverse, tolerant, compassionate society.” Lewis is no stranger to the Architectural League, having served on the nonprofit’s board since 2006 and as a frequent juror in the League’s competitions. LTL was selected as an Emerging Voices winner in 2002 and has gone on to finish both large academic projects, such as the revamp of Cornell University’s 160,000-square-foot Upson Hall, as well as speculative research initiatives.
Architects, planners, and policymakers all gathered for a June 20th dinner at the Architectural League of New York, where they conferred this year’s President’s Medal on Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The President’s Medal is the League’s highest honor and was awarded to Figueres for her role in negotiating the 2015 Paris Agreement; the multi-country accord created voluntary emission limits that were designed to keep global temperature rise under two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Medal recipients are selected by the League’s President and Board of Directors and recognize those who have had an outsized impact in art, architecture, the environment, urbanism, and design. Ecologist and Manahatta author Eric Sanderson, landscape architect and educator Kate Orff, architect Anna Dyson, Architectural League Executive Director Rosalie Genevro, and League President Billie Tsien were on hand to laud Figueres. “As architects, designers, and builders,” said Tsien as she presented Figueres with the award, “we honor her for offering us a model of action based on moral commitment and hope, and for demonstrating how to act with urgency and boldness to take on the encompassing challenge of our era, and in doing so, to imagine the possibility of a better world.” All of the speakers touched on Figueres’ role in bridging environmental concerns with the built environment, and the League’s role in advocating around climate issues. “Moreover, it’s an incredible moment for the League,” said Kate Orff, “a treasured cultural organization that over the years has laureled artists, architects, planners, and patrons of the city, to pivot to a broader context and honor a champion of the planet itself.” Figueres herself echoed the same sentiment in her acceptance speech. “I happen to think that urban spaces are where the new relationship between nature and society will germinate and thrive. And I also happen to think that this is where a lot of […] societal healing is going to take place.” After stepping down from her UNFCCC role in the summer of 2016, Figueres now works as the Vice-Chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, a coalition of cities and local governments that are combatting climate change through local action. Figueres is also the convener of Mission2020, an initiative to drastically reduce worldwide CO2 emissions, and long-term climate damage, by 2020.
Obama Presidential Center breezes through planning and zoning hurdles, but continues to kindle community concern
The Obama Presidential Center (OPC) passed two substantial hurdles this month as the Chicago Planning Commission and Zoning Committees both voted in overwhelming support of the development. Amidst a seven-hour hearing of public comment coming from a variety of Chicago voices, broad strokes of the plan were given a “yay” vote from 15 of the 22 planning commission members on May 17. The Chicago City Council signed off on the $500 million project on May 22, passing various zoning approvals. The stage is now set for the construction of a 235-foot-tall building with cultural exhibit and office space, two additional cultural buildings, and an athletic and community center. The Planning Commission vote also includes a 450-car underground parking garage and clears the way for the Obama Foundation (OF) to close public right-of-ways. While these votes were expected to breeze through both the Planning Commission and Zoning Committees, departments within the City of Chicago had already created conditions that allow obstacles to be easily bypassed, from the rerouting and closing of streets to downplaying the effects the OPC will have on historical aspects of Jackson Park. While the agenda divided the vote into multiple components, all of the items were treated as one. Public comment during the May 17th Planning Commission meeting included statements from the Chicago History Museum, Preservation Chicago, Jackson Park Watch, The Woodlawn Organization, Chicago aldermen and tenured Chicago activists. The commission did not address the federal lawsuit filed on May 14 by Protect our Parks, Inc. that accused the Obama Foundation of an “institutional bait and switch,” claiming that the original purpose of the transfer of public park land to the OF, a non-government entity, was to house the official Obama Federal Library, to be administered by the U.S. National Records and Archives Administration. As the OPF will not house Barack Obama’s official documents, the suit claims, transfer of park land to a private entity violates the park district code. The Planning Commission also failed to address a community benefits agreement proposed by the Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement Coalition (CBA), a group of organizations that includes the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Black Youth Project 100, and Friends of the Parks. Under the ordinance proposed by the CBA, the OPC, the University of Chicago, and the city would make targeted investments within a five-mile radius, including economic development, education, employment, housing, sustainability and transportation. At a community meeting held at McCormick Place last February, Barack Obama coolly responded to the call for a CBA: "The concern I have with community benefits agreements, in this situation, is it's not inclusive enough," Obama remarked. "I would then be siding with who? What particular organizations would end up speaking for everybody in that community?” Also present at the Planning Commission meeting were OPC architects Todd Williams and Billie Tsien, who are in the process of selecting materials for each of the structures that complement neighboring buildings like the Museum of Science and Industry and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, a building of their own design on the campus of the University of Chicago. While neither Tsien nor Williams spoke during the hearing, Williams implied during a public meeting in February that the integrity of Jackson Park has already been compromised over time. Designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, Jackson Park was the site of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and is one of Chicago’s most valuable and significant pieces of public land. An archaeological evaluation performed as a part of the project’s federal compliance uncovered artifacts and ephemera from the World’s Columbian Exposition, as well as architectural materials relating to the fair’s buildings, many of which set the course for how Chicago would look going into the 20th century. Despite the importance of these findings for Chicago, both the Illinois State Archaeological Survey and the chief archaeologist for the Illinois Department of Transportation have determined the presence of these artifacts to be insignificant. It is expected that a federal review of above-ground resources will reach a similar conclusion-that the OPC project will not have an adverse effect on the historic landscape of Jackson Park or the surrounding historic districts and buildings. At the center of the opposition is a $175 million-dollar plan to overhaul and close multiple roads within and around Jackson Park, a critical component to the Tiger Woods-designed PGA golf course slated to open in 2020, a year behind the OPC. The golf course would combine the existing Jackson Park and South Shore courses and fragment the South Shore Nature Sanctuary in favor of unobstructed views of the Chicago skyline for golfers. While the OF has not stated they are in support of the golf course proposal, many board members of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, an organization in support of the plan, have ties with the Obama Foundation or Barack Obama himself.
On May 7, the Obama Foundation announced a series of revisions to Tod Williams Billie Tsien’s $500 million design of The Barack Obama Presidential Center. The revisions are predominantly focused on the 20-acre complex’s masterplan and landscapes connecting facilities. The new design replaces a sunken courtyard located within the Presidential Center’s core plaza with a street level, concrete-paneled surface surrounded by soft landscaping. A children’s play area has been moved closer to Stony Island Avenue, which is seen as a more convenient location that provides sweeping views of Lake Michigan and Jackson Park’s Lagoon. Architecturally, the largest revision is to the grass-terraced and curved roof of the athletic center. According to a statement, the shape and roof of the building have been altered to be in line with the more traditional designs found throughout the campus. While renderings of the athletic center’s new design have not yet been revealed, the masterplan provides a glimpse of the facility's new rectangular layout. Additionally, the height of the athletic center has increased from 18 to 20 feet. Since announced in 2016, the Obama Presidential Center has been subject to near continual revisions, a result of direct community feedback, including some controversy surrounding its proposed parking garage, and the challenges of embedding an expansive cultural campus within a large urban center and landmarked park. The proposed changes will be submitted to the City of Chicago’s Plan Commission on May 17.
Following the decision yesterday to bury the Obama Presidential Center’s controversial parking garage under the center itself, the Obama Foundation has announced major changes to the rest of the campus. The complex, which will eat up approximately 20 acres of the Olmstead and Vaux-designed Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side, has faced scrutiny from preservationists and residents throughout the design process. When it was first unveiled, the Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners and Interactive Design Architects plan called for a squat, stone-clad museum at the heart of the center’s campus. The museum is joined by a forum and library with the three buildings ringing a central plaza, while each is connected to the other via perforated underground tunnels that let in natural light. Coming a day after the announcement that the parking garage was moving from the Midway Plaisance and into the park itself, the latest design for the center was revealed in a video from the Obama Foundation. In it, the former president and first lady present a new conceptual model of the site and discuss the changes therein. Most noticeably, the museum will now be slimmer but top out at 225 feet, as opposed to the originally planned 160 to 180 foot height. In response to criticism that the building was imposing or inappropriately dense for the site, the architects have replaced sections of the on the south and west sides and replaced them with screens containing quotes from the Obama presidency. The lettering will be made of the same lightly colored stone as the façade, although architect Tod Williams has told the Chicago Tribune that they aren’t sure whether the lettering will spell out real words, or remain abstract. A 100-foot tall section on the building’s north side has also been replaced with glass and will expose the escalator bank to natural light. Other details revealed include the creation of a 300-seat auditorium on the forum building’s north side, as well as the ongoing negotiations between the Chicago Public Library over including a branch inside of the library building. The underground parking garage will hold 450 cars across one or two levels, and be punctured with light wells to keep it airy and open. All of these changes come as the Obama Foundation is expected to file for their first construction permit today, and as the project undergoes a federal review to make sure that the Presidential Center won’t fundamentally alter the character of Jackson Park. With the move of the parking garage into Jackson Park itself, the structure will also fall under this review. While the battle over the parking garage has simmered down, preservationists are still concerned over the complex’s impact on a historically significant landscape. Martin Nesbitt, Obama Foundation chairman, said, “While the center’s buildings will occupy 3.6 acres, there will be a net gain in open space because closing Cornell Drive would create 5.16 acres of parkland,” in addition to the planted green roofs. Charles A. Birnbaum, President & CEO of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, countered with the following statement: “That’s not true. Closing Cornell Drive does not add 5.6 acres of parkland – that’s double counting. Cornell Drive, which unfortunately has been widened to six lanes, is part of the Olmsted design and is itself mapped parkland. “The people of Chicago were told they would get a presidential library administered by the National Archives, a federal facility, in exchange for the confiscation of historic parkland, listed in the National Register of Historic Places – instead, they’re getting a privately-operated entertainment campus with a 235-foot-tall tower, a recording studio, auditorium, sports facility, and other amenities.”
As first reported by the Chicago Sun Times, the Obama Foundation originally announced plans to build a parking garage in the public Midway Plaisance, just west of the proposed Obama Presidential Center designed by New York-based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. The plan to build the 450-car above-ground garage in the Plaisance was met with criticism from multiple community organizations, including in the form of a recent letter to the Foundation from over 100 University of Chicago professors. The new plan calls for the garage to be moved underground, beneath the Presidential Center, in Jackson Park. While this may alleviate some of the resistance to the project, it will still have to contend with a federal review regarding the changes to Jackson Park itself. Both Jackson Park and the Plaisance have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, both the park and the Plaisance were the site of the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The announcement comes just two days before the Foundation is expected to file for the first construction permit for the project, and on the same day that over 100 University of Chicago professors submitted a letter of concern to the Foundation. The letter addresses a number of specific points, one being the concern over the seemingly car-centric programming and siting of the building, as well as the use of public park space. While the letter reiterates support for the center to be on the South Side, it questions whether it will “provide the promised development or economic benefits to the neighborhoods.” It goes on to read, “At a time of increasing complexity and pressure in urban life, Chicago should be dedicated to preserving our public parks as open areas for relaxation and play for all its citizens.” The letter also points out that the Presidential Center is not the Presidential Library, which is administered by a federal agency, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The Barack Obama Presidential Library will be the first presidential library to be completely digital. Once all of the documents that are normally stored in a presidential library are digitized, the original copies will be put into a NARA storage facility. Over the past year, a series of community meetings and conversations with local organizations have been held to gauge community sentiment. While the overall mood from the city has been positive, issues like the parking, and the signing over of public land to a private organization have raised red flags with many, and will continue to through what will be the most anticipated and watched project in Chicago.