What Do Presidential Libraries Say About Their Namesakes' Legacies?





Part of the point of a presidential library is that it's a monument to a leader's legacy--his style, his enduring affect on the world, even his reading habits...or lack thereof. Speaking of which, Laura Bush unveiled the design for her husband's book joint this week, and the ultra-traditional structure that nods to Washington but bows to the rest of Southern Methodist University's campus isn't winning any points with architecture critics. But how does W's design stack up against his predecessors? We checked out the libraries of fellow recent commanders-in-chief completed in the last three decades to compare.

43's George W. Bush Presidential Center was designed by New York-based architect Robert A.M. Stern to match the rest of SMU's Neo-Georgian campus. The brick and limestone structure is meant to evoke both Washington and Texas through its classical architecture and native landscaping (is that brush we see out front for Bush to clear?). The building is also chock-full of sustainable features which may earn it a Platinum LEED rating, which is interesting, since Bush famously battled climate change regulation while in office. All in all, Bush's library seems to be laying low...really low. He's hoping to blend invisibly into the landscape, and SMU's campus, and, well, we're guessing, history in general. Maybe to liven things up a bit, Stern could borrow a few of the concepts from this 2008 contest to design the Bush library.

Over in Little Rock, Arkansas, the William J. Clinton Presidential Center also earned a Platnium LEED rating for its green roof and energy efficiency, but for appropriately diametrically-opposed architecture. The bold, cantilevered ultracontemporary box also represents a huge departure from the traditional libraries of the past--much like Clinton's look-at-me governance. Designed by Polshek Partnership, it's flashy, confident--dare we say slick?--and a bit of a showoff against the traditional riverfront. Yep, just like Willie's built a new globe-trotting legacy for himself post-presidency, he's built a center of world-class architecture that's got both eyes firmly on the future...

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