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Notre Dame grad students propose new site for Obama Presidential Center

University of Notre Dame architecture professor Philip Bess describes an alternate plan, developed by two ND graduate students, for the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago's Midway Plaisance.

June 20, 2019 |

Rendering by University of Notre Dame graduate urban design students Marie Acalin and Roger Foreman reimagines Chicago's Midway Plaisance as the site for the planned Obama Presidential Center.

In an op-ed in the June 19 Chicago Tribune, University of Notre Dame professor of architecture Philip Bess outlines a plan developed by graduate students Marie Acalin and Roger Foreman to locate the controvesial Obama Presidential Center to Chicago's Midway Plaisance, rather than the currently planned 20-acre site in Jackson Park.

The students' plan would provide new buildings for the University of Chicago, 4,200 apartments, and a new Ferris wheel overlooking Jackson Park. (The Ferris Wheel was introduced at the World's Columbian Expostion of 1893; the Midway Plaisance was a key design element of the fair.) Land-value taxation would be used "to stabilize property values and promote new building on vacant lots" in the adjacent Woodlawn neighborhood.

The Acalin/Foreman plan calls for preserving Lorado Taft's 1920 Fountain of Time and Peter Schaudt's 2005 Dr. Allison Davis Garden, while adding monuments to commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Chicago has a proud tradition of architectural modernism, but sometimes that tradition conspires with local development practices to get in the way of good placemaking, social solidarity, economic justice, and fiscal sustainability," writes Bess. "Consider for example Chicago’s Midway Plaisance and the controversies currently besetting the proposed Obama Presidential Center. Then consider how selected local traditions of classical humanist urbanism in tandem with some updated planning ideas could help Chicago resolve these controversies and simultaneously ennoble the Midway, the University of Chicago, the Obama Presidential Center, the adjacent Woodlawn neighborhood and ultimately Chicago itself."

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