So, the Obama Presidential Library Is Really Ugly

 

A discarded Chinese take-out box. The backside of a Star Wars sand crawler. The Washington Monument with the interesting bits lopped off. That’s what sprung to mind when confronted with the initial design of the Obama Presidential Center.

In addition to the tall stone museum with notches and windows cut out at random, the proposal calls for a low-slung forum and library with greenery on the roof. It will be built in Jackson Park in Chicago’s South Side, not far from the Museum of Science and Industry.

According to the Obama Foundation, this will be much more than a mere presidential library. “Through participatory and immersive experiences,” the website says, “the Center will tell Barack and Michelle Obama’s story, while lifting the hood on the mechanics of change and inspiring visitors to spark their own.”

No, I don’t know what that means either.

But the Obamas are going to use it as a community organizing bootcamp to teach new generations how to make hyperviolent Chicago an even less comfortable place to live and work.

As far as the architecture goes, I’m confused about the intent. Their first mistake was choosing Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, the duo responsible for turning the light, modernist Phoenix Art Museum into a turgid eyesore that grumbles “keep out” to passers-by. If I had to identify an architectural antecedent to their Obama design, it would be the broken necropolis built two millennia ago in the Kingdom of Kush.

To be fair, modern presidential libraries are pretty bland affairs. George W. Bush‘s complex looks like the headquarters of a mid-market insurance company while Bill Clinton‘s is a double-wide about to tip into the Arkansas River. The only winner is the Reagan Library, but that owes more to siting than architecture.

What are your thoughts: Is the Obama Center a hit or a bust?

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Members have made 96 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of DrewInWisconsin Member

    It seems to be modeled after the architecture of his native Kenya.

    • #1
    • May 8, 2017 at 7:34 am
    • Like18 likes
  2. Profile photo of KC Mulville Inactive

    I think it’s wonderful that we celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of … wait … who?

    What did he do again? And if there’s an answer to that question, here’s another: why should we continue it?

    • #2
    • May 8, 2017 at 7:39 am
    • Like10 likes
  3. Profile photo of Ekosj Member

    It’s entirely fitting. It’s a wedge. He spent his entire Presidency splitting us apart. A nice riff on Lincoln the rail splitter. Obama the country splitter.

    • #3
    • May 8, 2017 at 7:41 am
    • Like17 likes
  4. Profile photo of big spaniel Member

    Not only is it ugly now, but it will get uglier as it ages.

    The design is reminiscent of buildings I saw in Soviet Armenia, which were already crumbling by the mid-1990s. Those kinds of stone facade panels just don’t last long.

    • #4
    • May 8, 2017 at 7:41 am
    • Like10 likes
  5. Profile photo of Jamie Lockett Reagan

    Mid 20th Century Soviet Architecture. Seems…fitting?

    • #5
    • May 8, 2017 at 7:43 am
    • Like21 likes
  6. Profile photo of Jamie Lockett Reagan

    I actually like the modern design of the Clinton Library.

    The Reagan Library is perfectly designed for its setting. Yes the setting makes it spectacular, but they were smart enough to know that and put in place a spectacular California Spanish ranch.

    • #6
    • May 8, 2017 at 7:49 am
    • Like2 likes
  7. Profile photo of Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: In addition to the tall stone museum with notches and windows cut out at random, the proposal calls for a low-slung forum and library with greenery on the roof.

    D’ya suppose some “ecologically conscious” agitator might be able to persuade them that the whole thing would be greener if it were all done in the style of the low-slung forum and library with the greenery on the roof?

    • #7
    • May 8, 2017 at 7:51 am
    • Like4 likes
  8. Profile photo of Columbo Member

    Well … Bubba’s “double-wide” trailer will continue to be the “worst” of Presidential libraries ……..

    • #8
    • May 8, 2017 at 7:51 am
    • Like4 likes
  9. Profile photo of DrewInWisconsin Member

    Jamie Lockett (View Comment):

    I actually like the modern design of the Clinton Library.

    That’s the one that looks like a double-wide trailer home, right?

    Fitting.
    EDIT: Duh, I see Jon already mentioned it. Plus Columbo beat me by mere seconds!

    • #9
    • May 8, 2017 at 7:52 am
    • Like4 likes
  10. Profile photo of Trink Reagan

    My thought: Your take on this is hysterically brilliant. Thank you 🙂

    • #10
    • May 8, 2017 at 7:56 am
    • Like7 likes
  11. Profile photo of DrewInWisconsin Member

    I’m trying to think of a more awkward metaphor than “lifting the hood on the mechanics of change,” and . . . I just can’t.

    • #11
    • May 8, 2017 at 7:58 am
    • Like9 likes
  12. Profile photo of Ekosj Member

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    Jamie Lockett (View Comment):

    I actually like the modern design of the Clinton Library.

    That’s the one that looks like a double-wide trailer home, right?

    Fitting.

    Did they HAVE to make it phallic? Is it supposed to be a joke?

    • #12
    • May 8, 2017 at 7:59 am
    • Like3 likes
  13. Profile photo of Seawriter Member

    I like the design. Not as a design, but as a design totally appropriate for Barack Obama and his totally mismanaged Presidency. I wonder if the architect was laughing at Obama (sees the joke) or was laughing with Obama (is utterly oblivious to the symbolism of this ugly design). Either way, well played.

    Seawriter

    • #13
    • May 8, 2017 at 7:59 am
    • Like8 likes
  14. Profile photo of Son of Barsham Member

    – Modern Art and Architecture 101 –

    “Ok class, now that you’ve failed out of Modern Art and chosen architecture as your future, you’ll have the privilege of designing the Obama Presidential Library…”

    • #14
    • May 8, 2017 at 8:01 am
    • Like9 likes
  15. Profile photo of A-Squared Inactive

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.:
    It will be built in Jackson Park in Chicago’s South Side, not far from the Museum of Science and Industry.

    Good, that way I will never see it and it won’t create traffic hassles for me. That’s pretty much all I care about.

    Though, I’m still not sure why he didn’t pick Havana as the location. He may have lived in Chicago for a while, but his heart was always in Havana.

    • #15
    • May 8, 2017 at 8:02 am
    • Like10 likes
  16. Profile photo of Michael Brehm Member

    Columbo (View Comment):
    Well … Bubba’s “double-wide” trailer will continue to be the “worst” of Presidential libraries

    I read somewhere that it was originally designed lopsided in anticipation of some future day when a Hillary wing would be added. The architect is probably kicking himself these days.

    • #16
    • May 8, 2017 at 8:02 am
    • Like6 likes
  17. Profile photo of Jamie Lockett Reagan

    Michael Brehm (View Comment):

    Columbo (View Comment):
    Well … Bubba’s “double-wide” trailer will continue to be the “worst” of Presidential libraries

    I read somewhere that it was originally designed lopsided in anticipation of some future day when a Hillary wing would be added. The architect is probably kicking himself these days.

    Winner. Thread over.

    • #17
    • May 8, 2017 at 8:03 am
    • Like7 likes
  18. Profile photo of Front Seat Cat Member

    big spaniel (View Comment):
    Not only is it ugly now, but it will get uglier as it ages.

    The design is reminiscent of buildings I saw in Soviet Armenia, which were already crumbling by the mid-1990s. Those kinds of stone facade panels just don’t last long.

    wow – interesting comparison. It is ugly, but maybe the rooftop garden will feed some of the suffering since the inner city is getting worse by the day, and he is yet to address that. He and Emmanuel didn’t help address major inner city problems across the country, the violent gangs, unemployment, lack of safety and opportunity, shootings, rampant drug abuse. Just what they need – an ugly library….

    • #18
    • May 8, 2017 at 8:03 am
    • Like1 like
  19. Profile photo of Fred Cole Contributor

    If you think that’s ugly, just wait for the Trump library.

    I expect it to be 62 floors tall, all gold, with his name across the top.

    Nah. Who would ever build something so ugly…

    • #19
    • May 8, 2017 at 8:04 am
    • Like7 likes
  20. Profile photo of Cato Rand Member

    I think it looks like an eyesore, but I’m old fashioned. Pretty much anything modernist (and therefore pretty much anything they were likely to get) would have struck me as an eyesore. So, while an eyesore, it’s not really any worse than I would have expected.

    • #20
    • May 8, 2017 at 8:04 am
    • Like5 likes
  21. Profile photo of Umbra Fractus Coolidge

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    Jamie Lockett (View Comment):

    I actually like the modern design of the Clinton Library.

    That’s the one that looks like a double-wide trailer home, right?

    Fitting.

    Just like Obama’s, a classic case of creativity taking precedence over aesthetics or function.

    • #21
    • May 8, 2017 at 8:07 am
    • Like1 like
  22. Profile photo of Old Bathos Member

    I think it is appropriate that Obama selected architects who specialize in the East German But With Faux Flair school.

    The use of austere unimaginative blocky materials arranged slightly off-kilter as if doing that were a substitute for actual vision, novelty and artistic substance perfectly sums up an administration whose vision was a pathetic reprise of Woodrow Wilson’s governing ethos but with more telegenic flair and a far greater willingness to lie and distort.

    • #22
    • May 8, 2017 at 8:07 am
    • Like4 likes
  23. Profile photo of Front Seat Cat Member

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    I’m trying to think of a more awkward metaphor than “lifting the hood on the mechanics of change,” and . . . I just can’t.

    I hope its on a plaque outside of the library – maybe add a burned out car with the hood up, as a reminder of the hope and change crowd and their classy way of expressing themselves.

    • #23
    • May 8, 2017 at 8:09 am
    • Like2 likes
  24. Profile photo of Joe P Member

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    I’m trying to think of a more awkward metaphor than “lifting the hood on the mechanics of change,” and . . . I just can’t.

    Dropping the trousers on the reality of the Obama administration, and inspiring visitors to contribute their own.

    • #24
    • May 8, 2017 at 8:15 am
    • Like5 likes
  25. Profile photo of Taras Bulbous Inactive

    It’s on the south side of Chiraq and looks like a bunker. I’d say it’s form and function.

    • #25
    • May 8, 2017 at 8:18 am
    • Like13 likes
  26. Profile photo of Son of Barsham Member

    Cato Rand (View Comment):
    I think it looks like an eyesore, but I’m old fashioned. Pretty much anything modernist (and therefore pretty much anything they were likely to get) would have struck me as an eyesore. So, while an eyesore, it’s not really any worse than I would have expected.

    Yeah, that does seem to be the problem. Is there no one that does early 20th Century architecture anymore?

    • #26
    • May 8, 2017 at 8:20 am
    • Like1 like
  27. Profile photo of Mike H Thatcher

    It reminds me of the type of house some people of African descent with money might build.

    • #27
    • May 8, 2017 at 8:25 am
    • Like2 likes
  28. Profile photo of Suspira Member

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    Jamie Lockett (View Comment):

    I actually like the modern design of the Clinton Library.

    That’s the one that looks like a double-wide trailer home, right?

    Fitting.

    Did they HAVE to make it phallic? Is it supposed to be a joke?

    To be a true hat tip to Clinton’s contribution to our national decline it would need a slight bend somewhere.

    • #28
    • May 8, 2017 at 8:29 am
    • Like6 likes
  29. Profile photo of Ralphie Member

    It seems a bit big for the book he wrote. And the one he read.

    • #29
    • May 8, 2017 at 8:33 am
    • Like6 likes
  30. Profile photo of Percival Thatcher

    Needs columns.

    Can’t have a proper Obama shrine without columns.

    • #30
    • May 8, 2017 at 8:35 am
    • Like10 likes
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