Since 1939, when Franklin D. Roosevelt donated all of his official papers to the federal government for safekeeping and public access, every U.S. president has followed suit, giving rise to a new national institution: the presidential library and archive. Privately built but publicly operated and maintained, these libraries are multifaceted entities, serving at once as document repositories, interpretive museums, public spaces, memorial monuments, and, in some cases, even mausoleums. They also present the opportunity for each president to tell the story of their administration aesthetically, in built form.
Considering the unconventional nature of the 45th presidency, many around the architecture and design community have been wondering for some time just how a library for this president might look and what it might contain. Such was the impetus of the 45 Library Collective, which launched 45 Library in September 2020, inviting architects, artists, and designers to speculate on these very questions. Invitees were asked to submit one image (still or video) and up to 1,000 words describing their speculation without naming or picturing the 45th president. “As we currently move through a ‘post-truth’ era, the question of how we consider history is already upon us,” reads the invitation letter. “In many ways, as with other moments of crisis, what we preserve as art or fiction may be just as telling to future generations as what is recorded as fact.”
The 45 Library Collective is a loosely affiliated group of design-world friends: Andy Campbell, an assistant professor of critical studies at USC Roski School of Art and Design; Juliette Cezzar, an associate professor of communication design at the New Schools’ Parsons School of Design; Brendan Griffiths, a partner in the design practice Zut Alors!; and Igor Siddiqui, associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture.
45 Library, which is not affiliated with any institution or organization, began posting entries on its website 45 days prior to the election. Submissions range from whole building and landscape proposals, to ideas for artifacts, to notions of how it might feel to inhabit such a place, to reflections on this president’s legacy generally. For example, “Folly as Symbolic Form” by Alterior Office/Zaneta Hong & Leighton Beaman pictures the library as an architectural folly, with a distinctly Slavic formal language, sitting in a members-only St. Petersburg, Florida golf course, dedicated to the “incredible, proud, and bigly men and women of the Russian Federation, the United States of America.” “1461 (A Big, Beautiful Wall),” by Matthew Villarreal, suggests constructing the library as a chain of 1,461 parks (one for each day of this presidency) set beneath victory arches cut into the border wall where people from both sides can gather and chat free from surveillance. “Roll Call,” by Open Walls (Edlin G. Lopez and Albert Orozco), tells the story of an immigrant girl in a U.S. history class for English learners who imagines a National Library founded in 2020 after the end of 45’s presidency to commemorate and document the histories of people who were dispossessed and forcibly removed from their land.
45 Library had published 42 submissions at the time of this writing, with new library proposals coming out on a rolling basis. See them all at 45library.com.
Aaron Seward is editor of Texas Architect.