An Ultimate Destination for Naturalists



Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Competition



Aerial view ©Snøhetta


Until now, the establishment of presidential libraries at the conclusion of their terms has followed the founding of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library after World War II. The first exception to this was the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, established in 1962.* Now a foundation has been established in North Dakota (2014) to honor the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, but with an overriding theme—protecting this country’s national parks, which TR was so instrumental in establishing. North Dakota as a site for this effort would appear to be quite logical. Until Teddy Roosevelt’s interest turned to politics in 1888, he spent time roughing it in North Dakota, even buying two ranches near the area when the new library is to be located. One of four presidents honored on Mt. Rushmore, Theodore Roosevelt is known as much for his creation of the national park system, as for using anti-trust laws to break up major corporate monopolies at the turn of the century. Since he first became aware of the benefits of our forests and plains as a natural resource during visits in his early years in North Dakota, it was logical that a group proposing the library idea could immediately gain support from the state government for such a venture. Moreover, raising $100M for the construction of the project from private sources hardly proved to be an insurmountable obstacle and paved the way for a $50M grant from the state government for an endowment to support the operation of the library.


The site chosen for the location of the new library is adjacent to the town of Medora, North Dakota, just south of Roosevelt National Park. Although only having a population of 128 inhabitants, Medora will undoubtedly see an increase, due to an anticipated growth in visitors when the library in completed by 2025.


Looking north ©Snøhetta


To arrive at a design for the building and site, the Theodore Roosevelt Library Foundation turned to a design competition format that shortlisted three firms as finalists:


• Snøhetta (Oslo, Norway and New York City)
Studio Gang (Chicago)
Henning Larsen (Copenhagen, Denmark/New York)


Although all three firms can point to major projects in their resumes, Snøhetta is best known for having launched the firm by virtue of winning a major international competition—for the Alexandria Library in Egypt. The competition finalists were announced on 21 May 2020, and the winner, Snøhetta, was revealed to the public on 21 September 2020. The selection of Snøhetta was not a great surprise, since the goal of the competition, as expressed by the client, was “to build an awe inspiring, architecturally significant destination that works with, not against, nature.”
Snøhetta’s design of the main building can only be characterized as landscape-oriented, as it hardly represented a gigantic structure rising out of the hills. This was in contrast to the designs by both Studio Gang and Henning Larsen, who produced designs focusing more on the buildings than the landscape as a solution.

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San Jose’s Search for an Urban Icon


The Urban Confluence Silicon Valley Competition


Image ©SMAR Architecture


After several stops and starts, a decision to name the winner of the Urban Confluence Design Competition appears to be nearing its conclusion. In 2017, three founders of a local non-profit established The San Jose Light Tower Corporation (SJLTC). The founders of the non-profit, Restauranteur Steve Borkenhagen, construction company executive, Jon Ball and filmmaker Thomas Wohlmut, saw its primary mission in designing and building a new tower as a San Jose and Silicon Valley landmark. This idea was based on the memory of the original San Jose Electric Light Tower (1881-1915), a 22-story structure, located in downtown San Jose and came down as the victim of a gale, never to be rebuilt.


Realizing such a project depends on public support, the SJLTC cleared the first hurdle toward building a public consensus with the unanimous endorsement of the San Jose City Council—for the organization to move forward “with plans to design and construct an artistically-inspired and iconic structure in downtown San Jose.”


To realize such an idea, the project required a site, funding, and a design. Arena Green in Guadalupe River Park was thought to be the ideal location for the project. At the confluence of two rivers and in proximity to downtown San Jose, this was a logical choice. As for the design, they understood that a competition not only would be the natural road to arrive at a suitable design for such an ambitious project, but generate a maximum amount of publicity on the way to seeing the project built. One change occurred along the way: emphasizing the tower as the overriding goal of a solution was jettisoned in favor of a broader design solution. After some input from various parties, it was determined that placing sole emphasis on the tower as a design  object was too limiting as a concept and would not generate the interest that a more flexible challenge would. Thus the project took on the name of the site of the two rivers, Urban Confluence Silicon Valley Competition.


Image ©Rish_Ryusuke Saito


The competition was launched in the summer of 2019, and the entries were to be juried after a submission deadline of October 15, 2019. This deadline was ultimately extended, as a surge of comments apparently led to some modifications in the brief. The final deadline was set for July 1, 2020, and the response was the receipt of 963 entries! The program stated that three finalists would be shortlisted and each would receive $150,000 to finetune their presentations before a final decision was reached.


When the jury of 14 members convened to adjudicate the entries, the initial screening in the first round resulted in the number being reduced to 47 designs. Following that, three entries in the next round were chosen as finalists and given the task of explaining their designs in more detail for a final decision.


The three finalists were:

• Fer Jerez and Belen P. de Juan, SMAR Architecture Studio, Perth, Australia
• Rish_Ryusuke Saito, RNT Architects, San Diego, CA
• Qinrong Lui / Ruize Li, Harvard GSD / Singapore


The winner is to be determined in early 2021. The very existence of many high-tech companies in Silicon Valley in the San Jose area eventually could bode well for the ultimate realization of the competition winner.



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