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Foundation picks architects for Obama’s presidential library

WASHINGTON: The foundation planning President Barack Obama’s library announced on Thursday that it has picked two architectural firms to design the center on Chicago’s South Side, to be built after Obama leaves office in January 2017.

Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects Partners of New York will lead the design team for the Obama Presidential Center, partnering with Interactive Design Architects of Chicago, said Marty Nesbitt, chairman of the Obama Foundation.

There is not yet a design concept, cost estimate, or even a final site for the presidential library, Nesbitt, a longtime friend of the president, said on a conference call with reporters.

The foundation hopes to open the doors of the center, which will include a museum and archives, about five years after Obama leaves the White House.

“The real design process begins anew, right now. It’s really a blank slate,” said Paul Goldberger, an architecture critic who works with the foundation, on the conference call.

The center is expected to be built in either Washington Park or Jackson Park, near the University of Chicago’s main campus. The design team will help select the final site.

Obama and first lady Michelle Obama chose the two firms after meeting with a short list of seven firms drawn from a list of 144 initial proposals. They discussed concepts and explored whether there was good “chemistry” for working together, Nesbitt said.

Tod Williams and Billie Tsien are currently designing the U.S. Embassy complex in Mexico, and are known for their work on the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago. Obama awarded them the National Medal of Arts in 2013.

“If there’s anything that characterizes their work, it’s a combination of dignity, beauty and understatement,” Goldberger said.

Interactive Design Architects is known for its work on The Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. The firm’s president, Dina Griffin, is a resident of the South Side who has worked to encourage more minorities and women to become architects.

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