Whether his administration has mere months left or four more years, President Trump will eventually get a presidential library. But a new design for a potential Donald J. Trump Presidential Library is almost certainly not what he has in mind.
The design, presented in digital architectural renderings online, suggests a library that explores the legacies of the administration that have enraged the left and emboldened the right.
The lobby is emblazoned with Trump tweets, a map of the countries included in his early Muslim ban, and a front desk where entrance fees double to $50 for “immigrants.” Exhibits include a selection of “alternative facts” delivered by multiple White House press secretaries, the “Wall of Criminality,” and a prison with a work-release program for members of Trump’s inner circle convicted of crimes. Outside, next to the rooftop Autocrats Gallery and the Felon’s Lounge cocktail bar, is a gravesite for Trump allies who succumbed to COVID-19.
It’s clearly a parody. But the design also highlights a major question facing the post-Trump era, whenever that may be: How might such a presidential library attempt an accurate historical representation of a president and administration so prone to disinformation and falsehood?
Designed by a New York-based architect who wishes to remain anonymous, the library proposal holds little back in turning the most controversial and divisive moments of Trump’s time in office into biting commentaries on his policies and personality. With possible exhibits suggested by a few friends, the architect had plenty of material for this potential library.
A few highlights:
• The Criminal Records Room, where “you can do the research on how YOU would prosecute Trump’s crimes against humanity!”
• “Tax Evasion 101” exhibit, exploring key numbers from Trump’s tax filings.
• Weekly screenings of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation in the Alt-Right Auditorium.
“It’s like trying to drink from a firehose of water with how many different scandals he has,” the architect says. “We had to edit it down just so my brain wouldn’t hurt.”
He purchased the website’s domain name, djtrumplibrary.com, shortly after the 2016 election and designed the building model as a lark, starting with a basement reflecting pool. “That was originally dedicated, as a parody, to all the people we were going to lose in World War 3,” says the architect. “I knew something was going to go very wrong with this presidency, so having a memorial for some tragedy was the first design move I made.”
His prediction wasn’t far off. When he reopened the library model over the summer during lockdown, he simply renamed the war memorial to honor victims of the pandemic. “It just got repurposed quite naturally for the coronavirus,” he says.
Presidential libraries are a somewhat recent concept, with the first built to house the donated papers of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and others officially encouraged through the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955. Privately built but federally maintained, the libraries are intended to be archives of presidential documents but are often seen more as monuments.
Just 13 presidents currently have official libraries or museums. The fourteenth, a $500 million center focusing on President Barack Obama, has been a source of controversy for its planned site in a historic public park on the South Side of Chicago.
Whether presidential libraries should exist has been a topic of conversation since Obama announced his “presidential center” would be operated by his foundation, not the National Archives—a prospect that lets him essentially control how his legacy is portrayed. But even those run by the National Archives are problematic. Critics have blasted the libraries for their uneven and sometimes skewed presentation of public history.
But it may be pointless to evaluate presidential libraries as unbiased or rigorous. Some argue that we need to accept them as performative spaces that dramatize who a president was and what their administration represented—a matter of interpretation for any president.
Through this lens, the disparaging tone of the proposed Donald J. Trump Presidential Library may not be so radical after all.
“He’s going to be able to cast his presidency in his own light, in his own way, in his own version of reality,” the architect says. “I figured somebody should counterbalance that before he gets a chance to put it into actual stone.”