Obama library architects chosen

Husband-and-wife team Tod Williams and Billie Tsien designed the Barnes Foundation’s new Philadelphia home and the former American Folk Art Museum in New York


The verdict is in: Tod Williams and Billie Tsien will design the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago, the president’s hometown. The husband-and-wife team beat out six other firms on the shortlist for the US’s next presidential library. Most of the other contenders, including Adjaye Associates, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Renzo Piano and Snohetta, have won high-profile museum commissions of their own in recent years.

Tod Williams and Billie Tsien are best known for their divisive design of the American Folk Art Museum in New York, which was demolished in 2014 to make way for the expansion of the neighbouring Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). (The victory for Williams and Tsien might be made just a little bit sweeter by the fact that they beat out Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the firm in charge of MoMA’s expansion.)

The Obama Presidential Center, built in collaboration with the University of Chicago on the city’s South Side, will house the presidential archives and a museum dedicated to Obama’s two terms in office. The institution carries a price tag of around $500m and is expected to be complete by 2021. Construction will not begin until after Obama leaves office in 2017, according to the Chicago Tribune. Williams and Tsien will work with the Chicago-based firm Interactive Design Architects on the project.

The architects presented the Obamas with early conceptual outlines during the selection process but a more detailed design is expected to take at least one more year to complete. The Obamas’ choice hinged on finding an architect with whom they had good chemistry, the president of the Obama Foundation told the Tribune. The couple and their advisers were also impressed by Williams and Tsien’s interest in respecting nearby parks designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, a sticking point among local open-space advocates.

The New York-based architects are no strangers to sensitive, closely scrutinised assignments: they designed the new location for the Barnes Foundation in downtown Philadelphia, which opened in 2012.

“It is a joy, an honor and a responsibility to create a place that reflects the optimism and integrity of the President and the First Lady,” the architects said in a statement published on the Obama Foundation’s website. “This has been a transformative presidency and we will work to make a Center that embodies and expands the Obamas’ vision.”