I would love to work on the design of a Presidential Library. For me, Libraries are one of the last true public spaces left in America. While historically, the library has been understood as the repository of knowledge, today libraries are much more. The library has become the center of most communities across the United States, as repository of our history, but also by providing essential activities and public programs that binds our communities together. This has become very evident in the public libraries I have designed in Florida, in Rhode Island and now in New York City. This is what is beautiful and exciting about these noble structures.
The Presidential Library is all the more significant because it provides an understanding of the American experience during a particular moment in time, while they perpetuate the legacy of a President in the ever-changing present. My favorite libraries are the ones where the building enables the presidential archives to become a springboard for a better future. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, one of my favorites, does this really well. When visiting the Kennedy Library it is hard not to be moved, overlooking the water, thinking of Kennedy’s legacy and today’s Profiles in Courage. I took the oath to become an American citizen at the Kennedy Library; the setting made it all the more meaningful. At this time in America, we need more buildings that bind us together and the Presidential Library offers a unique opportunity to do so. While most are a combination of Library and Museum, the Presidential Library of the future should be conceived as Library and Community Center, where the idea of community is extended to include the entire Nation.
— Monica Ponce de Leon, AIA, is Dean and Eliel Saarinen Collegiate Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning of University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. In 1991, she co-founded Office dA and in 2011 launched her own design practice–Monica Ponce de Leon Studio.