Gelareh Barkhordari
Iranian student Gelareh Barkhordari won the in-class design competition for the Obama Presidential Library and Archives. Photo credit: Carolyn Gonzales

Professor Kramer Woodard’s students in their final semester in the master of architecture program at the University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning recently presented their plans for a Presidential Library and Archives for President Barack Obama. 

Woodard had a juried competition for the students’ 20 designs. Architect Gene Dyer served as jury foreman. Dyer is a principal at Safdie Architects, and has served as senior design architect and project director for many architectural and urban design projects.

Woodard said, “The topic of a presidential library is ideal for this final level of student work as it is functionally complex involving public and private spaces with security concerns, has technical issues of document preservation, and will have an environmental impact on the place of location, as well as being a prestigious facility of national importance.”

The Libraries are available to the general public and to scholars to enable understanding of what transpired in the President’s years of service. As much as these libraries warehouse documents, they also give a glimpse into the life of these individuals and are in many ways a museum containing a wide variety of objects and memorabilia.

They are also under the purview of the United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and so the students were required to follow NARA’s spatial requirements. The Libraries – in addition to providing secure spaces for the archives, also serve as education facilities for schools and the public. Program spaces include public spaces for conferencing, education, exhibits and a bookstore, as well as administrative spaces, storage spaces, museum support and food services.

Some students chose to site their design in Chicago, others in Honolulu, both representing cities of importance to Obama’s life and work.

“The two cities are quite diverse in culture, climate, social attitude and architectural inheritance all of which should have an impact on the Library’s design. The site put forward by the State of Hawaii is in Kaka’ako akai Gateway Park. It is on the Pacific Ocean front immediately south of downtown Honolulu, and is proposed as the conclusion of an urban development plan for south Honolulu. The City of Chicago has not identified a favored site at this time. The location in Chicago was at the students’ discretion,” Woodard said.

Dyer said, “This was a unique project and the students presented a number of remarkable designs. Only one design received a unanimous vote from the jury,” he said.

Two students received honorable mention:

Conor Reichert and Cameron Treme

3rd place: Ryan Hebert

2nd place: Maggie Wells

And the unanimous vote was for 1st place winner, Gelareh Barkhordari.

The inspiration for her design came from this Obama quote, "We know the battle ahead will be long, but always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change. 

"I created obstacles in the building to provide more than one path to the destination at the end of the gallery. It's a trip, not a moment," Barkhordari explained, adding that "the change" occurs at the space at the end.

For Obama's "millions of voices," Barkhordari created a screen on the exterior of the building that illuminates the world, because, she said, "Obama is a president who represents the world's people."

Barkhordari is no stranger to obstacles. An Iranian, she came to UNM immediately after the devaluation of Iran's currency, the rial. "Not only was her family unable to send her money, but she also worried about them. It was a very difficult time for her, but she stayed focused," said Geraldine Forbes Isais, dean of the School of Architecture & Planning.

All the winners received gift cards.