Tod Williams Billie Tsien and IDEA Tapped to Design Obama Presidential Center

Williams and Tsien beat out odds-on favorite David Adjaye.

From left: Charlie Young, IDEA; Dina Griffin, IDEA; Billie Tsien, TWBTA; Tod Williams, TWBTA; Bob Larsen, IDEA; Paul Schulhof, TWBTA. Photo courtesy Obama Foundation.
From left: Charlie Young, IDEA; Dina Griffin, IDEA; Billie Tsien, TWBTA; Tod Williams, TWBTA; Bob Larsen, IDEA; Paul Schulhof, TWBTA. Photo courtesy Obama Foundation.

The Barack Obama Foundation today named New York architects Tod Williams Billie Tsien to design the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side, in partnership with Chicago firm Interactive Design Architects (IDEA). Williams and Tsien beat out six other globally known firms—Adjaye Associates, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, John Ronan Architects, SHoP Architects, and Snøhetta.

The selection may come as a surprise to some. Robert A.M. Stern went on the record with Architect Magazine saying that “everybody says it’s going to be David Adjaye.” Writing for artnet News, Karen Wong, deputy director of New York’s New Museum and managing director of Adjaye’s London studio from 2000 to 2006, described him as the odds-on favorite.

Williams and Tsien’s firm of 30 is known for designs like the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago, and the ill-fated American Folk Art Museum building that was razed to make way for the latest expansion of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

IDEA, a firm of 10, founded by Robert K. Larsen and Charles G. Young in 1992, counts the Art Institute of Chicago, the Lincoln Park Zoo and the University of Chicago among its clients.

“We are deeply moved by the mission of the Obama Foundation and the role the Center can play in empowering that mission,” say the architects in a statement. “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. This has been a transformative presidency and we will work to make a Center that embodies and expands the Obamas’ vision.”

Founded in 2014, the Barack Obama Foundation will oversee the development of the Center, which will include a library and museum. Martin Nesbitt, who was the national treasurer for both of President Obama’s campaigns, is board chair. Studio Museum in Harlem director Thelma Golden serves on the board.


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