Clinton Library Architect Says Design Reflects Substance

Architect James Polshek compares his design for Bill Clinton's presidential library to his plans for a new arts center in Omaha, Neb., not for their style, but for their substance.

He said both of the public projects reflect values and a desire to give back to their communities.That ideal helped Polshek and Partners go against the grain in choosing a site and developing a multi-faceted, modernist Clinton Library, which officially opens Thursday.The Clinton Presidential Center has transformed downtown Little Rock, first by setting an architectural precedent, and then by spurring nearly $1 billion in development.

Similarly, Polshek's National Inventors Hall of Fame is the nucleus of a rebirth in Akron, Ohio. The Omaha Performing Arts Center is under construction with the same thing in mind.

The Clinton Library includes a 20,000 square-foot museum in a glass and steel structure suspended over the edge of the Arkansas River, a nod to Clinton's well-known speech about building a bridge to the 21st Century. The same building includes another 60,000 square feet of meeting rooms, service areas, offices, a cafe and a rooftop apartment for Clinton.

A hallway connects to a 70,000-square-foot archives building, which holds 630 tons of material, including 80 million pages of public and secret documents. It represents the largest archival collection of any U.S. president.

The building sits across from an 1899 train station converted into the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and is surrounded by a 30-acre city park.

Polshek and partner Richard Olcott said it might have been easier to put the Clinton Center in an open field in North Little Rock, across the river from what was, in 1997, a modest Little Rock skyline.

Instead, by choosing an industrial site east of downtown, in a struggling warehouse district, Little Rock's cityscape has burgeoned.

Polshek said Clinton was engaged in the building's design, but made few requests. He was particularly interested in making the library a conservation-conscious "green building."

Skip Rutherford, head of the foundation that paid for the $165 million project, said Clinton was particularly proud to stand on the fourth floor of the museum section two weeks ago and look out over dozens of solar panels on top of the connector to the archives area.

Thousands of yards of tubing also runs under the flooring and will control the climate with hot or cold water. The all-glass facade is also lined with computerized film with dots on it – black ones on the inside for a tinting effect and white ones on the outside to reflect sunlight and save energy.

Another unique design will be rarely seen. Polshek calls the second floor of the museum building "the belly of the whale." It contains a kitchen and services area for the indoor-outdoor cafe and reception hall and electrical control rooms for the whole structure.

Construction program manager Jonathan Semans had to keep track of 1,500 workers and dozens of contractors working with disparate materials - steel, wood, glass, marble, electronics, ventilation, and plumbing. He said Polshek's precision made it easier to handle.

The biggest challenge was making the museum more library-like than the other 12 presidential libraries. To do that, the museum part contains thematic alcoves that resemble the study areas of classical European libraries. The interactive exhibits are also lined with bookcases stacked with blue folios filled with real documents and emblazoned with the presidential seal.

With this library structure, museum visitors who are interested in specific themes of the Clinton presidency can focus on one display and research-related topics without having to go to the archives and pore over piles of original documents.

600450 Clinton Library Architect Says Design Reflects Substance

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