If Barack Obama is a ‘celebrity president’ then his Presidential Library has already attained celebrity status, despite lacking a building or even a site.
A flurry of media coverage has followed the low-intensity drama process of selecting the library’s host city, a decision now delayed until after Chicago’s mayoral election. Assuming Rahm Emanuel, current Chicago Mayor and former Obama Chief-of-Staff, is re-elected then the library seems likely to land next to the University of Chicago in Chicago’s South Side. That’s where the President taught constitutional law and began his political career; it seems only seems natural that Obama’s legacy will literally and figuratively return to its roots. The Chicago City Council recently approved the use of parkland adjacent to UChicago for a library. However, this hasn’t stopped speculation to run rampant. Moreover, there has been little discussion of the potential for the library to be more than a conventional archive and museum. In a rare exception, Michael Sorkin’s unsolicited plan presents the Obama library as a means to revitalize the South Side as a vehicle for new urban infrastructure and community resources. When I visited a recent exhibition of designs at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, I found a similar undercurrent of thought running through the designs.
Image: One of the winning designs featured at the Exhibition, produced by Zhu Wenyi, Fu Junscheng and Liang. Courtesy Chicago Architectural Club.