President’s day marks a moment of reflection in the United States, where citizens acknowledge the contributions of US presidents to the politics and culture of the nation. While some of these men are still with us, the majority are represented only by the monuments and buildings they left to posterity. Indeed, the legacy of a United States President has come to be embodied in a very specific type of building—a library. The last 13 presidents have commissioned national libraries to be built in their name, marking the end of their service. Libraries have also been posthumously dedicated to presidents who did not erect such monuments during their own lifetimes. In either case, recording the lives and legacies of these great men has made for some fantastic architecture. See some of our favorites, after the break!
JFK Presidential Library / I.M. Pei
Distinctive for its tall, triangular glass tower, the JFK presidential library is the work of Chinese-born I.M. Pei. The building functions both as a library and a museum, chronicling the tragically short life of the country’s youngest president. Visitors are led through a series of dense gallery spaces and into a dark theater, after which they are released into an airy glass room dedicated to pause and reflection.
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum / SOM
Designed by Skidmore Owings & Merril and opened in 1971, the LBJ library is a familiar sight to Austin locals. It makes extensive use of Italian travertine, a popular material with many Modernist works of architecture. The archives of the library contain more than 45 million pieces of paper chronicling Johnson’s political career.
William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum / Polshek Partnership LLP
Perhaps one of the most modern presidential libraries in existence, Polshek Partnership LLP’s monument to Bill Clinton is a truss frame building of steel and glass. The design includes an executive apartment for the 42nd president, and is certified LEED platinum, appropriate given Clinton’s environmental initiatives while in office.
Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies / Thomas Jefferson
The Smith Center is the only presidential library designed by the president to which it’s dedicated. Housed in Jefferson’s former estate at Monticello, the library is a center of study focused on the third, and one of the most famous, presidents of the United States. Monticello was a place of constant architectural experiment for Jefferson, being altered and redesigned for over 40 years. Its style reflects his eclectic tastes and unique design ideas.
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum / Edward F. Neild
Extensively renovated by Gould Evans at the turn of the century, Truman’s presidential library was originally the work of Edward F. Neild. The design incorporates Truman’s office, resting place, and a replica of the oval office (a staple in many other presidential libraries).