George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, Location: Dallas TX, Architect: Robert A M Stern Architects
Credit: Peter Aaron/OTTO
For more images of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, visit ARCHITECT's Project Gallery.
How did the program and site for the George W. Bush Presidential Center get determined?
Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA: The Bush people had what I think was an amazing idea, to have it on a major university campus. They chose Dallas for many reasons: Laura Bush’s alma mater is Southern Methodist University (SMU) [where the Center is located], and they wanted to live in Dallas when they left the White House. By being right next to SMU they could engage faculty and students, particularly in activities of the foundation. The building is three buildings in one: the archive maintained by the U.S. government, the museum, and the institute for the George Bush Foundation.
There are only 13 other presidential libraries in existence in the country. How did you prepare for such a rare commission?
Well I’ve been to quite a few of the libraries over the years in my professional life—actually since childhood. I went with my parents to the Roosevelt Library, which was the first presidential library to be built. I feel like I know what these buildings are about and they are an interesting type because they have evolved. Roosevelt’s was on his family’s estate, and he had it in mind that his house would be open to the public, so you’d get an experience of the president as a person, and then the library that had his papers in it. By the time John F. Kennedy died, his family decided to have a library and institute together. But that idea didn’t work. All of these things were on my mind, and I think also on the minds of the key committee responsible for supervising the design process and construction and realization of the institute.
This is a building that is as much about legacy as it is about the programming. Did that affect the design approach you took to the project?
It’s a great responsibility. It is a building about the legacy of a particular president and a very interesting and complicated era: Sept. 11, the decision to go into Iraq, and many other issues that gave the Bush presidency a sense of urgency and controversy. But it’s also about the legacy of the presidency itself. As I began to work on it, I was very concerned that the building fit into the campus. SMU is a beautiful, 20th-century, Georgian campus—really quite coherent and very well done. The other thing I was interested in was the legacy of the president. The building had to be an important statement for George W. Bush, of course, but also for George W. Bush as president. And this is the first presidential library to be built and opened in the 21st century.
How did you coalesce all of these ideas into a coherent design for the complex?
I didn’t sit down and have a brain wave. I’m not given to brain waves. I tried to find in my own memories of places something that I thought conveyed dignity without being pompous. I wanted to make a building that, when you got out of your car, was dignified. Some of the libraries, I won’t say which ones, don’t seem to me to convey the dignity of a presidential library. They tend to be particularly involved with the architect’s aesthetic. I’m not interested in making a monument to me, I’m interested in making a monument to the president and to the presidency.
For a building that must have security concerns, it feels very open. How did you strike that balance?
It’s designed to meet the newest security rules of the federal government, which were strengthened or increased after 9/11, as you can imagine. But I would say most people will not feel the hand of security. It’s an invisible hand. Working with [landscape architect] Michael Van Valkenburgh, we studied the site very clearly and carefully. It had a distinct slope to the south, and we were able to have a three-story building on the south and what appears to be a one-story building on the front, so it’s quite informal and less imposing. But also we were able to mound the earth up in general around the building in such ways that we had a 100-foot barrier and very few bollards in the landscape. Our handling of the site and the organization of the building all worked toward solving the security problem in a virtually invisible way.
One of the central spaces in the complex is Freedom Hall, which serves as the formal gathering space at the entrance to the museum. How did that space develop?
The experience I have three times a week, as a New Yorker, is of going through the great room of Grand Central Station in New York. You go through the passageways, you go through the bustle of crowds. You grab your muffin for the train ride and then you go into this amazing room, and I see people just drop their jaws—even hard-bitten New Yorkers breathe a sigh and just enjoy this space of release. It’s a beautiful space. And I think our space is a beautiful space. I like to make great rooms. I’ve always been critical of Modernism eschewing fixed spaces in favor of flow. Flow works. It has its place in architecture, although it doesn’t mean it has to have an undefined quality. But to me too much of the architecture of the 20th century and of our very immediate moment lacks the dimension of great spaces. And I would say it’s the culminating room. I never have favorites. That would be a bad thing for an architect, in my opinion. It’s like children. You don’t have favorite children.
How did you approach the institute and make that semiprivate program seem like part of the same complex?
The institute building is filled with two floors of offices and open spaces where the top scholars, professors from other universities, former members of the government—of our government or other governments—can come and work on research, write their memoirs. Who knows what’ll take place there, but it’s very important.
This is not a dead institution. President Reagan’s place is a wonderful destination, but people go there partially to see what Air Force One is like. It doesn’t have an institute. This has an institute. This has an agenda to help people in the future, to bring the best people there, and it’s already going. Am I involved in that? No, I make the places. Other people bring the people to them. I believe, already, I can say the environment we have created is working to foster the scholarly and research agenda, and the communication agenda of the institute. And it’s a great thing.
As the opening approaches, do you have any final thoughts about the process of designing the building?
I hope people like what they see, of course. For me, I’ve walked through it when it’s had almost no people in it and I’m proud of it, very proud of it. Maybe here and there a slight tear to the eye. I’m not a notoriously or famously sentimental person, but I think this is one of the capstone buildings of my career, and so it was a privilege to be asked to design it. I wish good luck to the next librarian and architect to work for President Obama. I hope they find a good site, and everybody says it’s going to be David Adjaye. He’s a great architect and so that’s great. But it’s going to have to be as good as ours or better. I’ve laid the gauntlet down.
George W. Bush Presidential Center, Southern Methodist University, Dallas
National Archives & Records Administration (library and museum); George W. Bush Foundation (institute)
Robert A.M. Stern Architects, New York—Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA (lead designer); Augusta Barone, Alexander P. Lamis, AIA, Graham S. Wyatt, AIA (project partners); James Pearson (project designer); Jennifer Stone, AIA, Charles Toothill, AIA (project senior associates); Enid De Gracia, Thomas Lewis, AIA, Salvador Peña-Figueroa, Susan Ryder, Paul Zembsch (project associates); David Abecassis, Seher Aziz, Jennifer Bailey, Elizabeth Bondaryk, Seth Burney, Deirdre Cerminaro, Danny Chiang, Adrian Coleman, Mario Cruzate, Jorge Fontan, Megan Fullagar, Anya Grant, Milton Hernandez, Ruth Irving, Hussam Jallad, Bradley Jones, Emily Jones, Kathryn Lenehan, Bruce Lindsay, Miyun Kang, Peter Lombardi-Krieps, Mako Maeno, Victor Marcelino, Mary Martinich, Anthony McConnell, Rebecca Morgan, Wing Yee Ng Fung-Fortugno, Jung-Yoon Park, Gali Osterweil, William Perez, Nasheet Rumy, Karen Rizvi, Tadam Roemer, AIA, Vanessa Sanchez, Jessica Saniewski, Daniel Siegel, Heather Spigner, Assoc. AIA, Addie Suchorab, Yoko Suzuki, William Work, Albert Yadao, Charles Yoo, Youngjin Yoon (project assistants)
Gensler (contract); Blasingame Design (Presidential Reception Hall)
Robert A.M. Stern Architects with Robert A.M. Stern Interior Design (RAMSI), New York— John Boyland (interior design associate); Philip Chan, Lawrence Chabra, Kelsi Swank, Christine Kang (interior design assistants)
CHP & Associates, Houston
Structural and Blast Engineer
Walter P. Moore
Manhattan Construction Co.
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Cambridge, Mass.—Michael Van Valkenburgh, Laura Solano, Herb Sweeney, Megumi Aihara
Fisher Marantz Stone Lighting
Lord Cultural Resources
Media Wall Design Consulting
Niles Creative Group
Code, Fire, and Life Safety
Rolf Jensen & Associates
Kroll Security Group
Audiovisual and Acoustics
Cerami & Associates
Russ Berger Design Group
William Klages/New Klages
Façade/Exterior Building Envelope/Waterproofing
Simpson Gumpertz & Heger
Swenson Stone Consultants
Walter Moberg Design
Russ Berger Design Group
226,560 square feet (gross)
Materials and Sources
Acoustical System Quiltcraft Industries (fabric-wrapped panels) quiltcraft.com; Baswaphon (acoustic plaster) baswaphon.com; Eurospan Stretch Wall System (transparent ceiling panels) eurospanstretchsystems.com
Adhesives, Coatings, and Sealants W. R. Grace Waterproofing (bituthene foundation waterproofing) grace.com; MirafiFoundation Geotextile tencate.com; Henry (vapor barrier membrane) henry.com; Laticrete (grout and aealant) laticrete.com; HMK Stonecare hmkstonecare.com; Dow Corning (stone sealer; exterior window and door sealant) dowcorning.com; Tremco (site concrete and retaining walls) tremcosealants.com; Hilti (firestopping sealant) hilti.com
Appliances Capital Distributing capitaldistributing.com; General Electric geappliances.com
Building Management Systems and Services Honeywell beyondinnovation.honeywell.com
Carpet Atlas Carpet Mills atlascarpetmills.com; Bentley Prince Street bentleyprincestreet.com; Constantine Commercial arcat.com; Shaw Contract Carpet shawcontractgroup.com
Ceilings Baswaphon (acoustic plaster) baswaphon.com; Mortensen Woodwork (custom stained pecan paneled ceilings) mortensenwoodwork.com; M. Böhlke Veneer (pecan veneer) mbveneer.com; Triangle Plastering (Oval Office ceiling) bakertriangle.com; US Gypsum (acoustic ceiling tile) usg.com; Casting Designs castingdesignsinc.com, Lasco (custom GFRC ceiling fabrications and Oval Office ceiling medallion) lascoadi.com
Concrete Manhattan Construction Co. (in situ concrete) manhattanconstructiongroup.com; TXI Concrete txi.com
Exterior Wall Systems American Steel (steel structure) american-steel.com; Camarata Masonry (masonry and stone site walls) camaratamasonry.com; Columbus Brick Co. (brick) columbusbrick.com; Continental Cut Stone (Texas Cordova cream limestone) continentalcutstone.com; Dee Brown (masonry and stone veneer) deebrowncompanies.com; DMG Masonry (CMU back-up walls) dmgmasonry.com; Johnston Products (custom bronze and glass railings, custom grillework) johnstonproducts.com; Manhattan Construction Co. (in situ concrete) manhattanconstructiongroup.com; Mezger Enterprises (Lueder stone roughbacks) mezger.com; NOW Specialties (custom metal sunshades) nowspecialties.com; Overhead Door (coiling doors) overheaddoor.com; TexaStone Quarries (bush-hammered Permian sea coral) texastone.com; TXI Concrete txi.com
Fabrics and Finishes Knoll Textiles (fabric-wrapped panels) knolltextiles.com; Maharam (fabric-wrapped panels) maharam.com; Marek Bros. (interior window shades); MechoShade (interior window shades) mechoshade.com; Naylor (paint); Sherwin Williams (paint) sherwin-williams.com
Flooring Campolonghi (Marianna cream limestone) campolonghi-italia.it; Crossville Tile crossvilleinc.com; Evans Interiors (gallery access flooring); Forbo Marmoleum (linoleum) forboflooringna.com/Commercial-Flooring; General Polymer (epoxy flooring) generalpolymers.com; Sigma Marble (porcelain tile) sigmamarble.com; Sika Floor (epoxy flooring) usa.sika.com; Stonhard (resinous flooring) stonhard.com; Tate Access Floors (gallery access flooring) tateinc.com; TST Construction Services (stone) tstcs.com; Woodwright Hardwood Flooring (wood flooring: pecan and mesquite) woodwright.net
Food Service Equipment Strategic Equipment strategicequipment.com
Furniture ARZU (specialty rugs) arzustudiohope.org; Bernhardt (side/guest chairs) bernhardt.com; Donghia (custom seating) donghia.com; George Cameron Nash (custom seating) georgecameronnash.com; Haworth (seating) haworth.com; Janus et Cie (restaurant seating) janusetcie.com; Keilhauer (conference room seating) keilhauer.com; Knoll (office) knoll.com; Rausch (ceremonial courtyard seating) rausch-classics.com; Steelcase (executive task chairs) steelcase.com; STUA (banquet seating) stua.com; Thomas Moser (conference room tables, NARA research room desks, and institute reading room tables) mosercontract.com
Glass Haley Greer (exterior high performance insulated glazing) haleygreer.com; Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope oldcastlebe.com
Gypsum Lasco (drywall and veneer plaster) lascoadi.com; Sheetrock Brand Wallboard Products (drywall) usg.com; US Gypsum Imperial Veneer System (veneer plaster) usg.com
HVAC AERCO (heating and boilers) aerco.com; Big Ass Fans (outdoor café fans) bigassfans.com; Dynaten dynaten.com; Evapco (cooling towers) evapco.com; Greenheck Fan Corp. greenheck.com; Taco (HVAC pumps) taco-hvac.com; Trane trane.com
Insulation Dow building.dow.com; International Cellulose (cellulosic sprayed thermal insulation) spray-on.com
Lighting Control Systems ETC Controls (broadcast/theatrical lighting) etcconnect.com; Lutron (dimming system) lutron.com; Schneider Electric (smart breakers) schneider-electric.com/us; Watt Stopper (daylight harvesting system) wattstopper.com
Lighting Brandt (installation) brandteng.com; Baldinger baldinger.com; Creative Light Source creativelightsourceinc.com; Crenshaw Lighting crenshawlighting.com; Gibson & Gibson Antique Lighting gibsonandgibsonantiquelighting.com; Lumos Lighting lumoscustom.com; Paul Ferrante ainsworth-noah.com; Winona Lighting (custom fixtures) winonalighting.com; Alkco alkco.com; B-K Lighting bklighting.com; Bartco bartcolighting.com; Belfer belfer.com; Birchwood birchwoodlighting.com; Boyd boydlighting.com; Color Kinetics colorkinetics.com; Crouse Hinds cooperindustries.com; Design Plan designplan.com; Edison Price epl.com; Elliptipar elliptipar.com; Gammalux gammalux.com; Lightolier lightolier.com; LiteLab litelab.com; Lithonia lithonia.com; Lucifer luciferlighting.com; Lumiere lumierelighting.com; Neoray cooperindustries.com; Portfolio Lighting cooperindustries.com; Prudential prulite.com; Q-Tran q-tran.com; RSA Lighting cooperindustries.com; Starfire starfirelighting.com; Winona winonalighting.com; Zumtobel (non-custom fixtures) zumtobel.com; Schott (LED fiber optics) schott.com
Lobby Custom Vitrines Guenschel guenschel.com; Johnston Products (bronze cladding) johnstonproducts.com; Lee Quigley Co. (bronze finishing) leequigley.com
Metal Alecom (custom bronze cladding assemblies) alecommw.com; Kadee Industries (floor grilles) kadeeindustries.com; Lee Quigley Company (bronze finishing) leequigley.com
Millwork Latta Construction lattaconstruction.com; Mortensen Woodwork mortensenwoodwork.com
Mobile Storage System for Institute Archives Southwest Solutions Group southwestsolutions.com; Space Saver spacesaver.com
Photovoltaics Cinco Solar (evacuated tube collectors) cincosolar.com; Sharp (photovoltaics) sharpusa.com
Plumbing and Water System Condensate recovery graywater system; Dynaten (PVI domestic storage tanks) dynaten.com; Marlo (water softener and RO systems) marlo-inc.com
Roofing Cardinal Roofing (Oval Office copper roofing) cardinalroofinginc.com; Chamberlin (waterproofing) chamberlinltd.com; Sika Sarnafil (roofing and waterproofing) usa.sarnafil.sika.com
Seating Series Seating (auditorium) seriesseating.com
Site and Landscape Products Anchor Group (security bollards and barriers) anchortexas.com; Bison (deck supports) bisonip.com; Continental Cut Stone (custom Texas limestone benches) continentalcutstone.com; Dee Brown (pedestal paver system) deebrowncompanies.com; EDI (tree planting) treemover.com; Fun N Sun (custom fountains) funnsunpools.com; Landscape Forms (trash receptacles) landscapeforms.com; Lone Star Nursery (selected trees); Metheny (landscaping and irrigation) methenylandscape.com; Mezger Enterprises (bush-hammered Lueders stone paving) mezger.com; Bega bega-us.com; Greenlee lsi-industries.com; Guth guth.com; Sentry Electric (site lighting) sentrylighting.com
Structural System American Steel american-steel.com
Wallcoverings George Cameron Nash georgecameronnash.com; Gracie (family dining room) graciestudio.com
Walls Barco (high-definition videowall) barco.com; Christie (high-definition microtile displays) christiedigital.com/microtiles; DMG Masonry (interior CMU walls and fireplace construction) dmgmasonry.com; Hufcor (operable partitions) hufcor.com; M. Böhlke Veneer mvbveneer.com; Mortensen Woodwork (wood-paneled walls) mortensenwoodwork.com; Triangle Plastering (plasterwork) bakertriangle.com
Wayfinding Graphtec graphtecinc.com
Windows, Curtainwalls, and Doors Alecom Bronze Cladding Assemblies (bronze cladding) alecommw.com; Boon Edam (revolving doors) boonedam.us; Ellison Bronze Assemblies ellisonbronze.com; Haley Greer haleygreer.com; Hopes hopeswindows.com; Lee Quigley Co. (bronze finishing) leequigley.com; Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope oldcastlebe.com; Assa Abloy assaabloy.com; Dallas Door and Supply Co. dallasdoor.com; Valli and Valli (doors and hardware material) vallievalli.com