Having consulted sources, I can now name 11 of the firms and observe that they are A) Of high caliber; B) Represent a broad geographic and aesthetic spectrum; and C) Include the established firms one would expect to be invited.
Two of the firms — Ennead Architects and Robert A.M. Stern Architects, both of New York — designed the most recent presidential libraries (a modern one for Bill Clinton and a traditional one for George W. Bush). If Obama wants to make a fresh statement, one has to wonder, why would he want them?
Renzo Piano, the architect of the Art Institute of Chicago's Modern Wing and New York's new Whitney Museum, also received a request for qualifications. Michelle Obama publicly praised his Whitney building after touring it earlier this year. Piano, an Italian, is the 1998 winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the field's highest honor.
Another invited architect attended a White House dinner with the Obamas. But it's not the presumed front-runner for the job, the London-based, Tanzanian-born architect David Adjaye, who sat with them during a 2012 state dinner for British Prime Minister David Cameron.
It's the German-born Chicago architect Helmut Jahn, who in 2011 sat at the Obamas' head table at a state dinner in honor of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. ... "I don't believe that Adjaye is a shoo-in," said Mark Sexton of the Chicago firm Krueck+Sexton, whose projects include the elegantly faceted Spertus Institute at 610 S. Michigan Ave ... Other Chicago firms invited to compete include Ross Barney Architects, led by Carol Ross Barney, a key designer of the downtown Riverwalk who has won plaudits for new Chicago Transit Authority rapid-transit stations. That experience could help because part of the Washington Park site is next to a CTA Green Line station.
Another local contender is the Chicago office of Perkins+Will, whose chief designer, Ralph Johnson, has already run the gantlet of slipping a museum into cherished parkland. His credits include the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park. ... Also invited is Chicago's Tigerman McCurry Architects, headed by Stanley Tigerman and Margaret McCurry. The firms brings intellectual heft and a longtime commitment to design for the disadvantaged, a quality that's relevant because the Obama center will be built near impoverished South Side neighborhoods.
The non-Chicago firms asked to complete are equally impressive and just as well-established.
Besides the Piano, Ennead and Stern firms, they include New York's Diller Scofidio + Renfro, which co-designed New York's wildly popular High Line; the San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which shaped an acclaimed U.S. consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou; and North Carolina architect Philip Freelon, whose firm last year became part of Perkins+Will. Freelon's entry will be independent of the firm's. ... Some Chicago architects said they would compete for the job even though they weren't asked.