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Opening to Van Valkenburgh’s park, the south facade’s deep porches have views of downtown Dallas. The seemingly casual nature of the landscape is a discordant note with the formality of the Center.

awnings used to shade the building and various openings. Most visitors will appreciate the abundant natural light. Pecan wood, again from Texas, is used for millwork, molding, paneling, and trim, adding a warm and pleasant counterpoint to the stone. Amidst all this thoughtful composition and careful integration of program, systems, and materials, one aspect of the completed complex seems glaringly discordant: The Center, as befits its role as a public building, is formal and rigidly hierarchical, but its placement in the casual landscape designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates of New York seems inappropriate. Both the building and its attendant gardens are the result of great care and careful planning on the part of their very gifted design teams, but the visual disconnect warrants mention. Everyone associated with the Center interviewed for this story expressed great enthusiasm for the landscape and pointed out how it contributes to the overall sustainability of the complex. Stern calls it “the park.” It has also been described as a model for future planning for the SMU campus. But to the observer who knows SMU and the delicious shade its allees and groves of oaks provide to those walking through and about it, the building seems isolated and detached, as if the planners ran out of money before they could put in the grass and trees. Those very trees are the single greatest unifying elements of the present SMU campus, and they generate a microclimate unique in all of Dallas, perhaps all of North Texas. The choices associated with the landscape at the Center certainly make it a worthy example of a type of landscape, but it is arguably not an example of landscape as extender and definer of context.

Ultimately, if we posit that this building is a reflection of the era that defines the presidency of George W. Bush, it is given further concrete expression upon entering the Center. For all of Stern’s formal planning and the resulting strong axial relationships of the primary spaces, after passing through the courtyard and entering the building, a visitor is shunted off-axis through a metal detector, manned by uniformed security guards. It seems a misstep, in a building that has arranged and articulated the circulation sequence so carefully. Like so many airports whose entry halls and public spaces are interrupted by lines, check points, and conveyor belts, the George W. Bush Presidential Center manifests this age’s overarching concern with security. For a facility with a message and mission all about freedom, this mandatory diversion is a reminder of just how fragile and tenacious the pursuit of that ideal has become. Michael Malone, AIA, is the founding principal of Michael Malone Architects in Dallas.

11/12 2013

Texas Architect 61

Texas Architect November/December 2013: Campus Architecture  

This issue explores the value of architectural diversity and creative responses to context. The discussion begins with a series on the three...

Texas Architect November/December 2013: Campus Architecture  

This issue explores the value of architectural diversity and creative responses to context. The discussion begins with a series on the three...