Trailblazers in Sustainable Design

6 mins read

Photo provided by JLG Architects | Renderings by Snøhetta

Why the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library is the Most Significant Project in North Dakota’s History—and Future

North Dakota may not have a coastline, but the beauty of its Badlands, prairies, and sunsets certainly inspires the state’s tagline, ‘Be Legendary.’ Perhaps the most legendary man to ever grace these plains was Theodore Roosevelt, beloved for his appreciation and conservation of nature. Now, a Presidential Library is the next page in North Dakota’s story. As the architect of record, JLG is making it possible alongside the international design architect and design landscape architect, Snøhetta; landscape architect of record, Confluence; and construction manager, JE Dunn. Sitting down with Patrick Thibaudeau, JLG’s Principal Sustainability Officer, he sheds light on the groundbreaking significance of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library (TRPL). According to Thibaudeau, TRPL is a once-in-a-century project with profound implications for local, national, and global carbon and climate policy. “It comes at a critical time, offering a chance to make a significant difference. This project is a demonstration of what it means to change business as usual for the next century in the most impactful way,” he said.

The design team is pushing beyond boundaries by registering TRPL for the highest levels of certification in the Living Building Challenge, LEED, and SITES. Once certified, TRPL will be the first presidential library to achieve all three major sustainability guides at the highest level.

What is the Living Building Challenge (LBC)?

LBC, by the International Living Future Institute, challenges industry leaders to create regenerative buildings and products that restore the health and resilience of world economies, cultures, and people. It aims to change business as usual to achieve a living future—one that is net positive. To achieve LBC certification, the TRPL team is following seven “petals” that need to be addressed for both the design and operation of the building. Within these petals are 20 imperative categories focused on net positive outcomes. – International Living Future Institute website. 

JLG's current progress on TRPL, which is being built near the Medora Musical Amphitheater.

JLG’s involvement perfectly illustrates its commitment to sustainable and innovative architectural design. TRPL, as Thibaudeau suggests, is not just a building but a beacon of change. “It’s thrilling to continue a legacy that’s over a century old, one that Roosevelt would have been proud to see carried forward,” he said.

Thibaudeau considers the project pivotal in defining the next era of conservation. “We’re entering a new century of conservation focused on carbon and circularity of materials. It’s an evolution of Roosevelt’s conservation ideals, adapted to today’s challenges in climate policy,” he said.

TRPL is a monumental project for JLG and North Dakota. “It’s a landmark moment encapsulating a commitment to sustainability and innovation. We’re not just building a library; we’re building an idea that will leave an impactful legacy for the next century, echoing Roosevelt’s visionary approach to conservation and policy,” Thibaudeau said.

TRPL Design Goals & Integrity

TRPL transcends conventional design. The team’s approach goes beyond simply erecting a building. “The Library is fundamentally emerging from the land,” Thibaudeau said. “Design lead, Snohetta, often states the Library is the landscape. The site and the building are inseparably connected as one.”

Thibaudeau draws a parallel between the Library’s design and Roosevelt’s transformative Badlands experience. “Just like Roosevelt found healing in the land after personal tragedy, the Library’s main building rises from the land. It draws heating and cooling energy from the land just as Roosevelt drew his personal strength from the land,” he said.

The goal is to create an immersive experience. “We want visitors to learn about Roosevelt’s life and embed it within their own stories—to learn it and live it,” Thibaudeau said. This approach makes the project one of profound emotional and environmental resonance, aligned with JLG’s dedication to regenerative sustainable design.

"TRPL embodies the land itself; the site and building are inseparably connected as on."

An Industry Game-Changer

A major shift is happening in the building world right now, with several organizations and initiatives halting the consumption and depletion of resources. TRPL is not content with carbon neutral, the project instead aims for carbon positive.

“TRPL is a game-changer because it creates net positive outcomes in all areas—from enhancing the human experience to ensuring financial value, especially in terms of environmental impact like carbon, energy, water, and ecology,” Thibaudeau said.

The project represents a significant leap in the design and construction industry, paving the way for more sustainable and responsible design practices. “We’re setting a new benchmark for what buildings and sites can and should be in terms of their relationship with the environment and society,” he said.

Giving Back to Nature

Sustainability is a hot topic in architecture right now—yet for JLG, it’s a core value. “The aim is to create a building that’s better than having no building at all. We look at the building as a living, breathing entity,” Thibaudeau said. “The Living Building Challenge is not just ticking off boxes on a checklist; it’s pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in sustainable design and doing something that has not been done before.”

“At the construction site, the progress is remarkable,” Thibaudeau said. “One of the key initiatives is land management, conservation with prairie restoration and the native seed project. The team is working with NDSU to actively remove invasive species and regenerate the land for future conservation. We envision a thriving restored prairie site that inspires regional and national prairie restoration.”

Sustainability extends to the construction site, which Thibaudeau described as tidy and well-ordered. "It’s inspiring to see the team fully embrace the project's ethos with an evident level of care even during early construction.”

More than Just a ‘Library’

While a ‘presidential library’ conjures up images of aisles lined with books and historic archives, TRPL is much more than “a library.” It is akin to a museum or an experience center. “TR’s papers are already archived elsewhere. We’re focusing on creating an immersive experience that reflects Roosevelt’s life story,” Thibaudeau said.

The Library will be an interactive journey, with experiences and exhibits leading from Roosevelt’s childhood to his presidency and beyond—inviting visitors to learn his story and then live out their own version of that story.

The Library’s design leverages the stunning landscape of the Badlands. “The site itself is inspiring, with one of the high points in the region offering a 360-degree view,” Thibaudeau said. “The roof becomes a destination, an extension of the landscape that magnifies a striking native view.”

This design aims to broaden visitors’ emotional, mental, and psychological perspectives. “Our intent is to inspire visitors to take action in their personal lives, paralleling the expanded views at the site,” Thibaudeau said.

What is SITES?

SITES is a rating system that guides, evaluates, and certifies a project’s sustainability in the planning, design, construction, and management of landscapes and other outdoor spaces.

SITES supports landscape architects, planners, and others in implementing nature-based solutions. SITES projects enhance biodiversity and mitigate climate change while conserving resources, improving public health, and protecting critical ecosystems

What is LEED?

LEED for Building Design and Construction (LEED BD+C) provides a framework for building a holistic green building, giving designers the chance to nail down every sustainability feature and maximize the benefits.

JLG created its own biophilic guide and adapted it for the project, calling it the ‘TR 20’, derived from existing principles to expand into more comprehensive and relatable paths. “We didn’t just conduct a standard biophilic workshop; we redefined its principles,” Thibaudeau said.

Giving Rather Than Taking

From day one, Thibaudeau says the project intends to be net carbon positive, and as the prairie restoration matures, it will become even more net positive within its own site. This extends to water usage, with the project aiming to use less water than naturally falls as rain on the site, thus contributing a water balance design to the local watershed.

TRPL also aims to minimize waste and avoid approximately 6,000 harmful chemicals in 90% of the installed products.

TRPL is Driving Economic Growth in North Dakota

Thibaudeau has been the national sustainability cochair for the AIA Large Firm Roundtable and a delegate to COP26 (United Nations Climate Change Conference). He emphasized that the movement towards carbon neutrality is not a passing trend but a significant economic transformation. “We’re witnessing a worldwide economic shift, the likes of which we haven’t seen for a century,” he said.

He points out the economic potential of carbon sequestration, particularly for local farmers and ranchers. “Carbon can potentially become a future cash crop,” he said.

“As organizations reduce their carbon footprint and waste, they become more efficient and profitable.” He believes this shift aligns with the values of the upcoming generation of consumers and workers who prioritize sustainability, from purchasing to employment.

TRPL is more than just a building; it’s a microcosm of the larger shift toward sustainability, signaling a prosperous future for North Dakota and beyond. The Library stands as a testament to Roosevelt’s legacy and a beacon of economic and environmental transformation, inspiring a new generation of sustainable innovation.

See Patrick Thibaudeau Present TRPL at TEDxFArgo!

For more information, visit:

JLG architects

416 E Main Ave, Bismarck, ND