About President Clinton’s new library:
Designed by James Polshek and Richard Olcott of the New York-based firm Polshek Partnership, the library has moments of genuine architectural power. Its sleek cantilevered form thrusts out aggressively toward the river, anchoring the building in the landscape. Its modern appearance masks a firm grasp of local vernacular traditions, from decaying industrial bridges to the rickety shotgun shacks that are a haunting emblem of the old South.
The result is a building that embodies the kind of progressive centrist values that Mr. Clinton virtually defined. The design ranks at the top of a long list of presidential libraries; for example, above I. M. Pei’s sleek 1979 design for the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. Like that model, the obvious aim is to provide the patina of respectability and in the process help cement Mr. Clinton’s legacy in the public imagination.
It’s a dignified approach but not a compelling one. The design fails to tap into the psychological complexity or political nuances that made Bill Clinton one of the most fascinating characters of our era – the charisma, the supple mind, the populist touch. In straining so hard to project the library’s gravitas, Mr. Polshek gives us a solid but predictable design. (The New York Times, “An Earnest Building for a Complex President,” Nov. 25, 2004.)
I want my presidential library to be designed by someone like Gehry. I want something spectacular. Original, new, bold, a stark departure from the past, filled with open space and public areas.