The Obama Library Finally Has A Site: Chicago’s Storied Jackson Park

The future library and museum will be built in Olmsted’s famous park on the South Side of the city.

The Obama Library Finally Has A Site: Chicago’s Storied Jackson Park
[Photo: Melissa Farlow/Getty Images]

President Obama has chosen Chicago’s Jackson Park to be the location of his presidential center, a source familiar with the decision-making process confirmed to Co.Design.


In May 2015, when the Obama Foundation announced that the presidential center would be located on the South Side of Chicago, it gave the two site options: Jackson Park, located on Lake Michigan, and Washington Park, further west of the lakefront. In June 2016, the foundation revealed that the center’s archival library, museum, and administration offices will be designed by the husband-and-wife firm Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, with a projected completion date of 2021, yet the question of the final site remained unanswered.

Flickr user Brandon O’Connor

The park is situated on the shores of Lake Michigan on the South Side of the city, close to the University of Chicago and several low-income neighborhoods. Designed by the legendary 19th century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the 543-acre lakefront park borders the university’s eastern edge and is home to the Museum of Science and Industry–one of the few buildings left from the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

These contributed to the park’s more favorable qualities over Washington Park, which the architecture critic Paul Goldberger called the “more exciting possibility” earlier this year. The “nitty-gritty” neighborhood surrounding Washington Park made it the “less conventionally ‘presidential’ choice,” Golberger told the Chicago Tribune. Meanwhile, Chicago Magazine‘s Whet Moser had previously pointed out some of the potential community benefits of choosing Washington Park, considering the socio-economic issues with which the surrounding neighborhood has struggled.

While the challenges won’t be as great at Jackson Park as they would have been at Washington Park, the site also borders a low-income neighborhood, and building a cultural hub will require development and increased transit accessibility. According to a study commissioned by the University of Chicago, the library could bring $31 million in development to the area. As Moser put it, it’s an “incrementalist choice, as things so often are when it gets down to politics.”

The South Side was where he worked as a community organizer in the 1980s. According to Tribune, Obama is the first U.S. president to build his library in a poor, residential neighborhood outside of the urban core. An official announcement of the project’s location–and likely more detail about the site development–will happen in the next few days.

About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture.