Clichés abound as design for Obama presidential library unveiled in Chicago
It was always a given that Barack Obama would end up with a monument, no matter how much chaos he sowed in his two terms as president. A presidential library and museum became the participation trophy of American presidencies in the middle of the last century. Add in the historic milestone of being the first African-American president (albeit one who came by this title without ancestors who were enslaved in this country) and the pretensions that adhere to anyone who has ever adopted the job title of "community organizer," and you have a level of ambient righteousness that inevitably generates fatuous rhetoric the way a stagnant pond generates mosquitoes on hot summer day in the Midwest.
So when Barack and Michelle Obama tore themselves away from writing their $60 million's worth of memoirs to unveil drawings of what is intended to become "The Barack Obama Presidential Center," located just south of the Museum of Science and Industry on Chicago's South Side, the fake humility and deference to "the community" reached escape velocity, threatening to rend the space-time continuum and catapult the entire neighborhood into an alternate universe in which the Obama years saw genuine racial healing – the very promise that brought two terms in office to Obama.
You can immediately banish the notion that the "presidential center" is mostly a monument. The Chicago Tribune reports that the ambitions expressed for it involve that mystical "community" – the ur-cliché of Obama's entire career:
Calling it a "transformational project for this community," the former resident said he and Michelle Obama envisioned a vibrant setting that would be akin to Millennium Park – a destination for those drawn to the presidential center and the park itself.
Actually, the very first transformational impact on the community will be traffic jams:
But to achieve this, the plans call for closing Cornell Drive, a major access route used by thousands of commuters a day.
"It's not just a building. It's not just a park. Hopefully it's a hub where all of us can see a brighter future for the South Side," he told an audience of about 300 political and community leaders at the South Shore Cultural Center.
A hub for viewing the brighter future of the South Side! One where the murder rate compares favorably with Baghdad, perhaps? It is not clear how the monument will help bring that about, but maybe the gangbangers will be overcome with admiration of Obama and give up their violent ways.
Rest assured: the monument will not be an ego trip. The New York Times:
Sometimes they [presidential libraries] are a monument to the past, he said, standing on stage in an auditorium on Wednesday; a record of accomplishments. "And a little bit of an ego trip," he added. "'See what I did.'" ...
"The main thing that Michelle and I contributed was just saying, 'What is it that we want to see 10 years from now?'" he said, recounting his conversations with the architects who designed the center. "And we don't want to see some big building that's dead, and kids are getting dragged to it for a field trip. What we wanted was something that was alive, and that was a hub for the community and for the city and for the country."
Does a building that is "alive" constitute the ideal home of a Constitution that is a "living document"?
As for the design itself, unveiled yesterday, my first impression is of whiteness. There is just a whole lotta of whiteness going on here:
How all that whiteness will do over the years as soot, grime, brutal winters, and acid rain take their toll is unknown. Future generations will get to draw their own conclusions.
A slightly pear-shaped museum tower will be the highest point on campus at 180 feet. That's high enough to see
gang shootings the brighter future of the South Side. As for the splaying of the museum, it kind of looks like big hips. Not sure what that reference is all about, since the former president is slender.
The tower is mostly windowless, a fashion that has been with modern architecture for decades. The little cut-out at the base of the tower showing a glimpse of four floors reminds me of the way rats chew on molding in a slum apartment. Perhaps a bit of inspiration from slumlord Valerie Jarrett?
The layout includes an artificial hill, supposedly for sledding down in winter.
Obama says campus will include sledding hill because "Michelle always complained there was nowhere to sled in the winter when she was a kid"— Paris Schutz (@paschutz) May 3, 2017
I guess we're lucky Michelle didn't fixate on riding ponies as a little girl, because then there would have to be stables.
Obama looks pretty pleased with himself, as may be appropriate for a guy who is showing off what a monument to him will look like.
But of course, it is all for the community.