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Stern to Design Bush Presidential Library

August 29, 2007

by David Dillon

Correction appended August 31, 2007

For all the official secrecy surrounding the process, yesterday’s announcement that Robert A.M. Stern Architects has been selected to design the George W. Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University (SMU), in Dallas, proved to be a no-brainer: a high-profile historicist for an institution that wants only collegiate Georgian architecture. Neo Trad for Neo-Cons. Where’s the surprise?

According to a statement from the Bush Library Foundation, Stern got the job following an August 23 meeting with the president at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. “I guess he wanted to look me over and I suppose I was looking him over,” Stern says.

Stern beat out a dozen Texas-based and national firms for the roughly $200 million commission, including Hammond Beeby Rupert Ainge, Pelli Clarke Pelli, Lake/Flato, HOK, and HKS. The final three came down to Stern, Lawrence W. Speck Studio of PageSoutherlandPage, and Overland Partners. A five-member committee led by first lady Laura Bush, herself an SMU alumna, interviewed the architects.

The initial RFQ called for a 145,000-square-foot library and a 40,000-square-foot public policy institute that are compatible with “the distinct architectural character of SMU, and commemorate and celebrate the accomplishments of President Bush.” The school has yet to finalize a location on campus for the facility and Stern is unable to say when conceptual schematic designs will be ready.

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As RECORD reported in June, some of SMU’s trustees and faculty bitterly oppose the proposed Bush institute, fearing that it will become a partisan think tank over which they have no control. Stern stayed clear that controversy on Tuesday, saying that he wanted to make a building that is open and welcoming to people and that is at the same time dignified.

Stern is no stranger to Texas, having designed the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in Houston, an administration building for Trinity University in San Antonio, and a Ritz Carlton Hotel in Dallas, which opened in August. In the late 1990s, he also produced a 22,000-square-foot neo-Georgian estate that the AIA Guide to Dallas Architecture describes as “a stray building from the Southern Methodist University campus.” Nothing like getting a running start.

Correction: Lake/Flato was approached to participate in the RFQ process but declined.

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