Saturday, April 27, 2013

A presidential library complex

The Hoover library at West Branch.

The unveiling this week of George W. Bush's presidential library in Dallas was enough to give Iowans a complex --- if enough of us worried much about stuff like this.

It was revealed that not only is our presidential library (the Herbert Hoover at West Branch) the smallest of the National Archives and Records Administration's thirteen (at 47,000 square feet), but that it also has the smallest collection of documents and artifacts and managed to attract the least number of visitors last year (44,549).

Oh well. Hoover wasn't much of a president, although like others he did have his moments before and after.

On the other hand, neither was George W. Bush, who seems to have had no moments of excellence before, during or after (in all fairness, he probably has a good number of years left and once he learns how to paint has the potential to do something useful).

His library is not only the largest (226,560 square feet) but also the most expensive ($250 million). Designed by Robert A.M. Stern, dean of architecture at Yale, it also continues the noble tradition of presidential library butt-ugliness. In other places and circumstances, it would be mistaken for an abandoned warehouse and converted into loft living spaces.

I read somewhere it was designed to blend with the prevailing architecture at Southern Methodist University, whose campus it shares, which must be fairly awful.

At least the Hoover is inoffensive and hasn't obliterated more than its fair share of Iowa farm land.

My favorite of the presidential library bunch is I.M. Pei's John F. Kennedy in Boston. But then I'm a Pei groupie, even though his wing of the Des Moines Art Center does make me a little nervous. I like the Richard Meier wing there best, despite its problematic roof.

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