BISMARCK — The group behind the proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library has selected Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta to design the high-profile project in western North Dakota.
Snøhetta, led by founding partner Craig Dykers, beat out two other world-renowned firms, Chicago-based Studio Gang and Copenhagen-based Henning Larsen, in a final design competition held last month near the proposed site of the library in tourist town Medora, N.D.
Dykers told Forum News Service he felt "exceptional joy" to be selected for the project and said he looked forward to honoring Roosevelt's legacy by "connecting history to the future."
Melani Walton, who chairs the library board's design committee and is married to billionaire Walmart heir Rob Walton, said the firm's design "captures the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt and why he came to the Badlands."
The firm has in the past garnered praise and public attention for creative projects, including Europe's first underwater restaurant and several notable opera houses and libraries. The award-winning company also integrates landscape architecture, interior design, graphics, branding and product design into its operations.
The design concept Dykers presented in Medora last month is rooted in simple pieces of nature found near the proposed site — two unattached pebbles make up the interior of the library, while a leaf lies over the structure as a roof and "protector."
Dykers said the design is heavily inspired by the terrain of the North Dakota Badlands and aims to respect the ecological environment of the site. The design emphasizes the expansive views of the rugged scenery, and a walk-able roof features natural grasses commonly found in the surrounding prairie landscape.
The design concept also includes several hiking trails and boardwalks that lead to outdoor pavilions, and Dykers floated the idea of building a tram from downtown Medora in addition to maintaining a parking lot outside the library. The tram would address the strong desire of Medora residents to connect downtown with the library.
Dykers said he was told the design's sensitivity to the landscape and the broad approach to showing visitors the natural area around the library were major factors in his firm winning the competition.
The architect said his firm's design garnered positive reactions from the library board and Medorans, but he noted there have to be more conversations with stakeholders and locals as the project goes from theoretical to physical. He said the final library building may look slightly different than the renderings depending on feedback he receives but that it should "feel very similar to the project I imagine."
"Nothing ever stays exactly the same, but if it's a good project, it'll take the change and everyone will love it even more in the end," Dykers said.
Building a library atop a butte in the Badlands figures to present several unique challenges, including the dry, clay-rich soil that lies beneath the grass and the climate that bounces between extremes, Dykers said. But the architect said his firm has never shied away from climate complications, adding that the library should accommodate visitors even during the harsh winter.
Dykers said he will mostly work on the project from New York and San Francisco. Library foundation CEO Ed O'Keefe said the architect's fee will now be negotiated with the firm.
Last year, state lawmakers approved a $50 million endowment for the project that only becomes available if the library foundation can raise $100 million in private donations by the beginning of next year's legislative session in January. O'Keefe would not share how much the foundation has raised but said it will reach its goal on time.
The foundation must also acquire the proposed 60-acre site that lies a few hundred yards from the amphitheater used for the well-known Medora Musical and about 1.5 miles from downtown Medora. The land is currently owned by the U.S. Forest Service, but O'Keefe said he is very confident the foundation will be able to acquire the site.
O'Keefe said the foundation hopes to break ground on the project by the end of 2021 and have the library open in 2025.
As the name suggests, the proposed library is meant to honor and recount the complex story of Theodore Roosevelt, the one-time governor of New York who became the 26th president of the United States. As a young man, Roosevelt spent parts of three years hunting and ranching in the North Dakota Badlands before his career in national politics.