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Bush Library Architect Selection Begins

June 25, 2007

by David Dillon

It’s getting to be legacy time for President George W. Bush and, among other things, that means building a presidential library—which, after months of official denials and equivocations, is headed for Southern Methodist University (SMU), in Dallas, the alma mater of first lady Laura Bush.

This location was confirmed in an RFQ issued on May 24 by 3D/I, a Houston-based firm hired by the Presidential Library Foundation to oversee the selection process. The document outlines a 145,000-square-foot library and 40,000-square-foot public policy institute on “property that SMU recently acquired.” The project must be compatible with “the distinct architectural character of SMU,” i.e., Georgian, and “commemorate and celebrate the accomplishments of President Bush.” Kevin Sloan and Alan Chimacoff, both then of Hillier Architecture and now in private practice, assembled the master plan. It proposed two sites, one near the center of SMU’s campus, the other on the southern edge facing downtown Dallas.

A dozen architecture firms received the RFQ. They include Cesar Pelli Associates, Robert A.M. Stern, HOK, and Hammond Beeby Rupert Ainge, as well as Texas-based firms such as Lake/Flato, Overland Partners, HKS, and Beck Architecture. The designers have until July 25 to provide management plans. Firms that make the short list will be interviewed in Washington during the week of July 30, with the winner announced in early August.

The RFQ confirmed what most observers had suspected since SMU beat out Baylor, Texas Tech, and the University of Dallas in a high stakes competition last fall. But SMU’s coup was shadowed by lawsuits initiated last fall by property owners who contend that the university duped them into selling on the cheap, as well as by harsh criticism from many SMU professors who fear that Bush’s public policy institute will be a partisan think tank. Although SMU prevailed in these lawsuits, less clear is the amount of influence that professors will have over the independently staffed policy institute.

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Also unclear is an exact location on campus where the library will be constructed and a price tag for the project, though this is believed to be roughly $200 million. For now, at least, the RFQ does answer the question of which school will host the library.

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