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Adjaye in Play? What’s Behind Worldwide Search for Obama Center’s Architect?

Could architect David Adjaye be in play to design the planned Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side? He was, after all, the choice of Thelma Golden to design the new home (on the old site) for the Studio Museum of Harlem, which she directs. Golden is a recent addition to the board of the Obama Foundation, which is responsible for all aspects of the plans for the Presidential Center.

David Adjaye

David Adjaye

Adjaye could benefit from the Obama Foundation’s unorthodox decision, announced today, to mount a worldwide search for an architect to design the planned facility for Barack Obama‘s presidential archives, a museum, and spaces for educational and scholarly activities (not to mention sports, healthy dining for visitors and a Presidential Suite for President and Mrs. Obama).

As noted by Blair Kamin and Dahleen Glanton in today’s Chicago Tribune, American firms have always been chosen to design presidential libraries and museums. (Adjaye, a British architect, was born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents.) They quote Benjamin Hufbauer, a presidential library scholar and associate professor at the University of Louisville, describing the international search as “a great publicity move.”

My guess is that it might be a great strategic move, designed to give more ballast to the selection of a foreign architect for this plum assignment. Adjaye is already at work on another prestigious American project—the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History, expected to open next year.

In a tweet posted after his article appeared, Kamin, the Tribune’s architecture critic, observed that “Adjaye has to be on list” for the Presidential Center. That said, he reported that “at least 90 percent of the [unidentified] invited firms are American….Chicago architects are heavily represented.”

As described by the University of Chicago, a participant in the Presidential Center’s plans, the Obama Foundation will raise all the funds for construction of the project and will operate the future museum and library portion of the Presidential Center as a public-private partnership with the National Archives and Records Administration.

According to the project’s Request for Qualifications (RFQ), the architects’ pitches should should include “specific examples of your firm’s efforts to achieve diversity and integrate MBE [Minority Business Enterprise], WBE [Woman Business Enterprise], veteran and other underrepresented firms.”

Responses to the RFQ are due Sept. 16. Finalists are to be selected by the President and First Lady later this year, with the final decision expected early next year.

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