Since politics is dominating our national conversation, particularly as the dust of the Democratic National Convention settles, it seems an appropriate time to start a series analyzing the architecture of presidential libraries. On Wednesday night President Barack Obama spoke to the convention and the rest of the country, urging them to “feel the Bern” and also to “carry her like you carried me.” Amidst this media frenzy surrounding our political landscape, another frenzy is happening because of Barack Obama at the firm, Tod Williams Billie Tsien, Architects | Partners, as they work on the plans for his presidential library.
The Obama Presidential Center will be constructed in Chicago’s South Side, a predominately African-American neighborhood, in Jackson Park, the third largest in the city, which comprises 500 acres. NY-based architects and married couple Tod Williams and Billie Tsien was chosen for the project. They boast a prestigious catalog of work including the American Folk Art Museum, Asia Society Hong Kong Center, the US Embassy in Mexico City, among many others, and also state that “architecture [is] an act of profound optimism.” It makes complete sense then that they would design the first major monument dedicated to our president who said, “Yes we can.”
The architecture of presidential libraries is fascinating. For example, something important to note in the last two presidential libraries—The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum and William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum—is that both clearly reflect their presidents’ personality.
Architect: Robert A.M. Stern
Here is W’s library. Notice the strong, cream-colored limestone. It’s stoic, serious; it doesn’t blink when it needs to make a decision. Also, it can just sit there, still and silent and unsmiling. It has a purpose: to be quiet and do what its told.
Architect: James Polshek
Next we have Clinton’s library—now this thing is fun! It’s hovering over the air like a spaceship, like it just wants to take off and fly away from pesky tabloid journalists. An interesting contrast though was the use of glass—the building is more transparent than he was.
The architecture of presidential libraries is a fascinating way to view our nation’s modern architectural and design history. Starting with Abraham Lincoln all the way to seeing the first preliminary designs for Obama’s Presidential Center, it’s a peek into how design mirrors our politics, and how our culture is tied with our physical environment.
By: David Plick