Tod Williams and Billie Tsien have been selected of the recipients of the 2017 LongHouse Award for their “for their outstanding body of work in architecture.”
At Wednesday evening’s ceremony, the husband-wife team opened up about the conceptual ideas driving their yet-to-be-revealed design for the Obama Presidential Library.
In a lively discussion with Vanity Fair architecture critic Paul Goldberger, the architects revealed the nature of their working relationship with the President and First Lady, and how their upcoming library may draw from what TWBT learned in designing the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.
Completed in 2012, the Barnes Foundation on Benjamin Franklin Parkway was designed as the new home of the world-class art collection that previously occupied a beaux-arts villa in the nearby Merion, Pennsylvania. Speaking about the logic behind the design of the Barnes, Williams explained how the Obama Presidential Library may be inspired by similar motivations:
“In the Barnes in Merion, you were either in the building or in the garden. We decided to bring these two together... What we did, in a way, is what we might do for the presidential library: we took the agency of the idea of the garden and combined it with the building so the building didn’t exist by itself.”
“The library is not only Barack Obama, it’s Michelle Obama – two amazing people, and people who have very different and powerful separate views. So plurality is critical to solving all architectural problems. It can never been done by a single thing, it has to be using the agency of other elements, in particular the garden.”
Responding to a question about the architects’ relationship with the Obamas (described by Goldberger as ‘sympatico’), Williams drew parallels between the two couples:
“I think he realized nothing could really be done without her, that’s the extraordinary thing, it’s a true relationship. And that’s why we put together the idea of architecture in the garden, because these are as different as Billie and I are, or as Barack and Michelle are. I think it’s a pretty easy relationship because of his respect for her, and her respect for him.”
“I think the interesting thing was, what we talk about is for a set of principles and ideas rather than specific buildings, and then the buildings became an expression of the principles, so in that way it is much more fluid as a process of designing something because first you agree on the principles.”
Well-known for their elegant architecture that centers around the idea of permanence, Williams and Tsien recounted how the Obamas suggested the building take on a strong presence of its own:
“He said it was too unflashy,” explained Tsien. “He looked at what we did and he said, ‘I said you could be sort of quiet, but I think you’re a little too quiet.’
Housing the presidential archives, a museum and the headquarters for the Obama Foundation, The Obama Presidential Library will be located in the Jackson Park neighborhood of Chicago’s South side, and is expected to be completed by 2021.
Now in their 26th season, The LongHouse Reserve is a 16-acre museum and garden in East Hampton founded by internationally acclaimed textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen with the goal of expanding the imagination and appeal of art to visitors of all ages and every level of appreciation. Learn more about the institution, here.
News via LongHouse Reserve.
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The Barnes Foundation / Tod Williams + Billie Tsien