The Obama Presidential Center takes shape

Barack Obama signed the last stone of the 68 meter high building during a “topping out” ceremony, an American tradition which marks the end of the construction of the structural work. The building is to house a museum, in a larger complex located in a southern neighborhood of Chicago. The building was designed by Tod Williams Bille Sien Architects. The shape of the building, four hands erected upwards, pays homage to all the workers who created the center. Each facade of the building offers a different panorama of the city of Chicago. The top floor offers a breathtaking view with the “Ski-wheels”, a free space open to the public. On the lower level there is a meeting space for visitors with a café and shops.

The museum is located within a complex of four buildings in an 8-hectare park. Visitors will have access to several locations: the museum, a two-story event space, a sports center, a recording studio, a winter garden and even a toboggan run. The Obama Presidential Center is located in a disadvantaged neighborhood where the former president began his career as a community activist. The center aims to tell the story of Obama’s presidency and through it the quest for social progress. The story of Barack Obama and his wife is intended to serve as a model to encourage visitors to get involved in their community. Historic advances in African-American rights and the actions of former United States presidents will also be highlighted.

“You are America”, can we read on one of the exterior stones of the building. A reference to Barack Obama’s speech in 2015, this emblematic phrase recalls the historic demonstrations (from 1965) for the rights of African-American citizens. Engraved on the facade, the sculpted letters recall the importance of the fight for civil rights.

The work was abruptly stopped in November 2022 after the discovery of a noose on the site. A symbol of hatred recalling the period of slavery and the death of thousands of African-Americans, this racist gesture moved the workers on the site.

The Obama Foundation is a non-profit association which supports, among other things, artistic projects linked to local communities. Brandon Breaux, a local artist and fifteen students from Dyett High School for the Arts created a mural on the center’s site in homage to Chicago’s West and South Side. On its website, the Foundation announces the production of a work by African-American sculptor Richard Hunt for the Obama Presidential Center. Different scholarship and mentoring programs are offered for students and professionals involved in the life of their community.

Unlike his predecessors, from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush, Barack Obama was not able to benefit from help from the American administration. Traditionally, a former president can open a place dedicated to his archives, most often a presidential museum associated with a library. President George W. Bush had such a complex built on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station. Barack Obama preferred to build a private facility that would receive artifacts loaned from the archives. There will be no on-site research library, nor any official presidential documents. Instead the Obama Foundation will digitize 30 million pages of unclassified paper documents from the administration.

The center’s opening date is scheduled for 2026. The center hopes to welcome 750,000 visitors per year.

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