Blair Kamin on Northerly Island Park, Obama Library Status


It has been a busy season in the world of architecture, from new libraries to new landscapes. Chicago Tribune's Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Blair Kamin joins us to discuss the opening of Northerly Island’s new nature park and the cutting edge design of the new Chinatown library. He'll also update us on the status of a global search for architects competing to work on the Obama Presidential Center.

Northerly Island's nature preserve was offically opened last Friday with a dedication ceremony that included Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Sen. Dick Durbin, along with members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Chicago Park District. The park includes approximately 43 acres on the southern portion of the 91-acre peninsula that was formerly occupied by the Meigs Field airstrip until 2003.

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In a recent column, Kamin wrote this of the new Northerly Island nature park:

Designed by landscape architects SmithGroup JJR with Studio Gang Architects, and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the new Northerly Island parkland will offer a taste of the habitats, from ponds to marshes to prairies to savannas, that existed before development overran the Chicago area.

That sounds like an eco-Disneyland, but the park has the ring of authenticity — and the feel of the urban wild — even though its landscape is man-made.

The hills don’t just provide relief from Chicago’s pancake-flat landscape. They block noise from the drive and screen out nearby Burnham Harbor.

Below: Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other officials attend a dedication ceremony for Northerly Island Park.


Chinatown Library

The new Chinatown branch of the Chicago Public Library opened Aug. 29 at 2100 S. Wentworth Ave., just north of its original 2353 S. Wentworth location.

Designed and constructed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP and Wight & Company, Kamin described the new Chinatown library in a recent column as “elegant,” and said that the structure “breaks the cookie-cutter mold” of the “prototype” designs that were once the norm for city library buildings.

Read an excerpt from Kamin's column about the Chinatown library below:

The shape, scale and articulation of the exterior separate the branch from the ordinary, squared-off commercial buildings around it. The vertical fins bring much-needed visual warmth and delicacy to the cool walls of steel and glass. They also act as sunscreens, reducing energy costs for the city and distracting brightness for users.

In another plus, the library's glassy walls reveal the bones — in this case, white-painted steel columns and diagonal braces — that hold the building up. This X-ray look hews to the Chicago tradition of revealing and celebrating a building's structure.


Obama Presidential Center Update

The Barack Obama Foundation has released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) phase to solicit submissions from architects worldwide who are interested in providing design services for the Obama Presidential Center. President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will then select which candidates will advance to a Request for Proposal (RFP) phase, with a winner expected to be announced by early 2016.

According to the foundation’s website, “The OPC will include a library holding the Presidential archives, a museum focusing on the Obama Presidency and issues of our time, and space for programs and initiatives that advance the Foundation’s public mission. In May 2015, the Foundation announced plans to build the OPC on the South Side of Chicago on one of two potential sites: Jackson Park or Washington Park.”

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