The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library

Henning Larsen has unveiled its design for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in North Dakota, US. The proposal takes its cues from the rich landscapes of the north Dakotan badlands, comprising four volumes that peek up from the site’s butte. Complete with a landmark tower, the library becomes a hub for community and fluid threshold over which visitors can cross into the sprawling majesty of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Henning Larsen is among the three finalists, together with Snøhetta and Studio Gang, selected to present their designs to the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation in Medora, North Dakota. The winning proposal will be selected in late september 2020. Together with Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, Henning Larsen developed a design rooted in the landscape and community of the North Dakotan badlands, which transform and defined Theodore Roosevelt as the man, conservationist, and American civic icon he is remembered as today.

‘There is a unique and awe-inspiring beauty to everything about the badlands that you simply cannot experience anywhere else,’ says Michael Sørensen, design lead and partner at Henning Larsen. ‘The landscape only fully unfolds once you are already within it; once you are, the hills, buttes, fields, and streams stretch as far as you can see.Deeply tied to the area’s landscape, the proposal includes four volumes that peek up from the butte, each a formal reference to the geography of the badlands. ‘The design fuses the landscape and building into one living system emerging from the site’s geology,’ notes Thomas Woltz, principal and founder of Nelson Byrd Woltz. ‘The buildings frame powerful landscape views to the surrounding buttes and the visitor experience is seamlessly connected to the rivers, trails, and grazing lands surrounding the library.’

The four volumes are connected underground, along a continuous narrative trail where Theodore Roosevelt’s life, work, and legacy are exhibited and experienced. After entering the lobby, visitors follow a sloping spiral path down to the exhibition level, where they encounter seats that encircle a hearth. It is here that the journey begins, gathered together around the fire as Roosevelt himself would have done.

Titled ‘The Hero’s Journey’, the trail comprises a series of spaces that showcase both Roosevelt’s legacy and the surrounding landscape. Each space overlooks a different aspect of the surroundings, showing off the changing nature of the badlands from every vista and vantage. The start of the trail comprises dark exhibition spaces lit by the soft daylight that streams in from above, while the final stop bathes visitors in full daylight. There, a panoramic window offers views onto the library and landscape from the project’s ‘legacy beacon’ tower.

‘Theodore Roosevelt famously stated “I never would have been president if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota.” After just the small amount of time we’ve been able to spend in Medora, it’s clear to us what he meant,’ adds Henning Larsen’s Michael Sørensen. ‘The landscape, the people – and the spirit they are both imbued with – is unique, rich, and indomitable. ‘We’re honoured to be a part of Medora’s story and hope to help realize this part of its future.’

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