Finalists announced in Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library design competition

Rough and Ready

Finalists announced in Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library design competition

Theodore Roosevelt is finally getting the a proper presidential library in the Badlands of North Dakota. (© Allison O'Keefe/Courtesy Snøhetta)

Despite being a speck of a city with a population just north of 100 and no chain restaurants to speak of, Medora can still claim bragging rights as “North Dakota’s #1 Destination.” This is in part because the historic former boomtown-turned-outdoor recreation hub serves as the gateway to the southern unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and is home to, among other attractions, the Medora Musical, a popular Wild West-themed revue held each summer at an amphitheater on the outskirts of town.

Now, Medora is poised to become a rather unlikely architectural destination following the announcement that three firms, Snøhetta, Studio Gang, and Henning Larsen, have been selected as finalists in the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library design competition. The three were chosen following an “extensive search and interview process” conducted by the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation (TRPLF), a nonprofit formed in 2014.

The three firms, which have yet to submit any formal design concepts or digital renderings (those must be submitted later this summer), were selected out of a pool of a dozen international architectural practices that “affirmatively responded” to a Request for Qualifications made public by the TRPLF last month. Diller Scofidio + Renfro, MASS Design Group, Selldorf Architects, Lake|Flato, and Renzo Piano Building Workshop were among the other firms in the running as semi-finalists. Chicago-based Studio Gang was the only firm of Midwestern provenance in the mix, although the selection of Oslo-headquartered Snøhetta seems apt given North Dakota’s considerable Norwegian heritage.

“Theodore Roosevelt overcame many challenges in his life and translated his experiences into a deep appreciation for the value of our natural resources and the power of our landscapes,” said Craig Dykers, founding partner at Snøhetta. “His conservation ambitions have even greater relevance today and we are so proud to be a part of fulfilling his vision.”

Per the TRPLF, the winning firm will work alongside an executive architect and construction management team based in North Dakota. The designs submitted by Snøhetta, Studio Gang, and Henning Larsen will be made public August 10.

Although born and raised in Manhattan and educated at Harvard, Roosevelt is a bona fide North Dakota icon—an honorary cowboy who spent much of his time as 26th President of the United States shuttling between the White House and his Badlands ranch just north of Medora. His impact on the area, particularly within the realm of land conversation, was nothing short than immense. The TRPLF website goes as far as to refer to Roosevelt as a “New Yorker by chance, and a North Dakotan by choice.” And no, Roosevelt doesn’t already have a presidential library. That presidential library system, administered by the National Archives, didn’t begin until the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, with the first being the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, even though Hoover preceded FDR, who was married to Theodore’s Roosevelt niece, Eleanor.

“The T.R. Presidential Library & Museum will not be a box in the Badlands with artifacts under glass; the T.R. Library, like T.R.’s life, will be an experience,” explained TRPLF chief executive officer Edward F. O’Keefe in an message published on the project website. “We want every visitor to the T.R. presidential library and museum to walk out understanding the role of nature as a restorative force in T.R.’s life, and that each of us can be the change we want to see in the world.”

Per the Bismarck Tribune, the TRPLF is in the process of acquiring 60 acres of U.S. Forest Service-managed land near the amphitheater that hosts Medora the Musical. The three firms will visit the site in June.

The TRPLF is also in the midst of raising $100 million in private donations, which will enable construction of the library to kick off after a design is finalized. The state legislature also authorized a $50 million operational endowment, which will become available after the initial $100 million is secured.