Presidential Library Buildings - The Task of Design

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A Final Resting Place, the Architecture of Archives

Courtyard Entrance of the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York
Courtyard Entrance of the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York. Photo by Dennis K. Johnson/Lonely Planet Images Collection/Getty Images

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, NY was the first federally-administered Presidential library.

What is a Presidential Library?

"A Presidential library, despite combining the practical purposes of archive and museum, is chiefly a shrine," suggested architect and author Witold Rybczynski in 1991. "But a curious sort of shrine, for it's conceived and built by its subject." President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) started it all with his library built on Roosevelt's estate in Hyde Park, New York. Dedicated on July 4, 1940, the FDR Library became a model for future Presidential libraries—(1) built with private funds; (2) built on a site with roots to the President's personal life; and (3) administered by the federal government. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) runs all Presidential libraries.

What is an archive?

Modern U.S. Presidents collect a lot of papers, files, records, digital audiovisual materials, and artifacts while in office. An archive is a building to keep all this library material. Sometimes the records and memorabilia themselves are called an archive.

Who owns an archive?

Until the twentieth century, a President's office materials were considered personal property; Presidential papers were destroyed or removed from the White House when the President left office. The trend toward systematically archiving and consolidating American records began when President Roosevelt signed a 1934 law that established the National Archives. A few years later, in 1939, FDR set a precedent by donating all of his papers to the federal government. Further laws and regulations were developed to care for and administer presidential records, including these historic acts of Congress:

Visiting Presidential Libraries:

Presidential libraries are not like public lending libraries, although they are public. Presidential libraries are buildings that can be used by any researcher. These libraries are usually associated with a museum area with displays for the general public. Often a childhood home or final resting place is included on the site. The smallest Presidential library in size is the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum (47,169 square feet) in West Branch, Iowa.

Learn More:

Sources: Presidential Libraries: Curious Shrines by Witold Rybczynski, The New York Times, July 07, 1991; A Brief History, NARA; Frequently Asked Questions about Presidential Libraries, NARA; National Archives History, NARA [accessed April 13, 2013]

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Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, Missouri

Expansive entry of the brilliant white stone Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. Photo © Edward Stojakovic, akasped on, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Harry S. Truman was the thirty-third President of the United States (1945 - 1953). The Truman Presidential Library was the first to be created under the provisions of the 1955 Presidential Libraries Act.

About the Truman Library:

Dedicated: July 1957
Location: Independence, Missouri
Architect: Edward Neild of Neild-Somdal Associates; Alonzo Gentry of Gentry and Voskamp, Kansas City
Size: about 100,000 square feet
Cost: originally $1,750,000; 1968 addition $310,000; 1980 addition $2,800,000
Other Distinguishing Feature: Independence and the Opening of the West, a 1961 mural in the main lobby, painted by American regional artist Thomas Hart Benton

President Truman was interested in both architecture and preservation. The library archives include "Truman's personal sketches of the library as he envisioned it." Truman is also on record as a defender of preserving the Executive Office Building as it faced demolition in Washington, D.C.

Learn More:

Sources: History of the Truman Presidential Museum & Library at; Records of Neild-Somdal Associates at [accessed April 10, 2013]

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Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Abilene, Kansas

Eisenhower Presidential Library in Kansas is neo-classical in grandeur
Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas. Photo courtesy Eisenhower Presidential Library staff photographer, public domain

Dwight David Eisenhower was the thirty-fourth President of the United States (1953 - 1961). The land surrounding Eisenhower's boyhood home in Abilene has been developed in homage to Eisenhower and his legacy. A variety of architectural styles can be found on the multi-acre campus, including the nineteenth century home; traditional, stately, columned stone library and museum; a modern visitors center and gift shop; a mid-century style chapel; statuary and pylon plaques.

About the Eisenhower Presidential Library:

Dedicated: 1962 (opened for Research in 1966)
Location: Abilene, Kansas
Architect: Kansas State Architect in consultation with the Eisenhower Presidential Library Commission led by Charles L. Brainard (1903-1988)
Contractor: Dondlinger & Sons Construction Company of Wichita, Kansas; Tipstra-Turner Company of Wichita, Kansas; and Webb Johnson Electric of Salina, Kansas
Cost: approximately $2 million
Construction Material: Kansas limestone exterior; plate glass; ornamental bronze metal; Italian Laredo Chiaro marble walls; Roman Travertine marble floors; American native walnut paneling

The Chapel:

Both President and Mrs. Eisenhower are buried in the chapel on site. Called a Place of Meditation, the chapel building was designed by Kansas State architect James Canole in 1966. The crypt is of Arabian Travertine marble from Germany, Italy, and France.

Learn More:

Sources: The Buildings at and PDF fact sheet on the official website; archival description of Charles L. Brainard Papers, 1945-69 (PDF finding aid) [accessed April 11, 2013]

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John F. Kennedy Library, Boston, Massachusetts

John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts, dedicated in 1979, designed by I. M. Pei
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, Massachusetts, designed by I. M. Pei. Photo of JFK Presidential Library © Andrew Gunners, Getty Images

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, assassinated while in office, was the thirty-fifth President of the United States (1961 - 1963). The Kennedy Library was originally to be built at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but fears of congestion moved the site to a less urban, seaside environment near Dorchester. Mrs. Kennedy's chosen architect reworked the Cambridge design to fit the 9.5 acre site overlooking Boston Harbor. It's been said that the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, France, looks strikingly similar to the original design for the Kennedy Library.

About the JFK Library:

Dedicated: October 1979
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Architect: I. M. Pei, original design and addition in 1991 of the Stephen E. Smith Center
Size: 115,000 square feet; 21,800 square foot addition
Cost: $12 million
Construction Material: precast concrete tower, 125 feet high, near a glass-and-steel pavilion, 80 feet long by 80 feet wide and 115 feet high
Style: modern, triangular nine-story tower on a two-story base

In the Words of the Architect:

"Its openness is the essence....In the silence of that high, light-drenched space, the visitors will be alone with their thoughts. And in the reflective mood that the architecture seeks to engender, they may find themselves thinking of John F. Kennedy in a different way."—I.M. Pei

Learn More:

Source: I.M. Pei, Architect at [accessed April 12, 2013]

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Lyndon B. Johnson Library, Austin, Texas

LBJ Library, built 1971, designed by Gordon Bunshaft, University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas
Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, designed by Gordon Bunshaft, on the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas Texas, USA. Photo of LBJ Library in Austin, Texas © Don Klumpp, Getty Images

Lyndon Baines Johnson was the thirty-sixth President of the United States (1963 - 1969). The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum is on 30 acres at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas.

About the LBJ Presidential Library:

Dedicated: May 22, 1971
Location: Austin, Texas
Architect: Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM) and R. Max Brooks of Brooks, Barr, Graeber, and White
Size: 10 stories; 134,695 square feet, the largest library operated by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
Construction Material: travertine exterior
Style: Modern and monolithic

Learn More:

Sources: History at; Frequently Asked Questions about Presidential Libraries, NARA at [accessed April 12, 2013]

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Richard M. Nixon Library, Yorba Linda, California

Spanish-influenced architecture of Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California
Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California. Photo of Nixon Presidential Library © Tim, dctim1 on, CC BY-SA 2.0

Richard Milhous Nixon, the only president to resign while in office, was the thirty-seventh President of the United States (1969 - 1974).

About the Richard Nixon Library:

Dedicated: July 1990 (became a Presidential Library in 2010)
Location: Yorba Linda, California
Architect: Langdon Wilson Architecture & Planning
Style: modest, regional traditional with Spanish influences, red tile roof, and central courtyard (similar to the Reagan Library)

The chronology of public access to the Nixon papers highlights the historical significance of presidential papers and the delicate balance between privately-funded but publicly-administered buildings. From when Mr. Nixon resigned in 1974 until 2007, the President's archival material underwent legal battles and special legislation. The Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservations Act (PRMPA) of 1974 prohibited Mr. Nixon from destroying his archives and was the impetus for the Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978 (see Architecture of Archives).

The privately-owned Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace was built and dedicated in July 1990, but the U.S. government did not legally establish the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum until July 2007. Well after Mr. Nixon's 1994 death, the physical transfer of of his Presidential papers occurred in the spring of 2010, after an appropriate addition had been built to the 1990 library.

Learn More:

Source: History of the Nixon Presidential Materials at [accessed April 15, 2013]

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Gerald R. Ford Library, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Gerald R. Ford Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Photo courtesy of the Gerald R. Ford Library,

Gerald R. Ford was the thirty-eighth President of the United States (1974 - 1977). The Gerald R. Ford Library is in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the campus of his alma mater, the University of Michigan. The Gerald R. Ford Museum is in Grand Rapids, 130 miles west of Ann Arbor, in Gerald Ford's hometown.

About the Gerald R. Ford Library:

Opened to the Public: April 1981
Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Architect: Jickling, Lyman and Powell Associates of Birmingham, Michigan
Size: 50,000 square feet
Cost: $4.3 million
Description: "It is a low-lying two-story pale red brick and bronze-tinted glass structure. The architectural focal point of the interior is a spacious two-story lobby opening onto an outdoor plaza. Through a window wall one can watch the hypnotic movement of two large stainless steel triangles, a kinetic sculpture created for the Ford Library by noted sculptor George Rickey. The lobby features a grand staircase with a glass-supported bronze railing under a large skylight. The building as a whole was designed to be highly functional as well as attractive. The interior is finished in natural red oak with abundant natural lighting."—History of the Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum (1990)

Sources: About the Gerald R. Ford Library at; History of the Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum [accessed April 15, 2013]

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Jimmy Carter Library, Atlanta, Georgia

Jimmy Carter Library in Atlanta, Georgia is surrounded by Japanese gardens
Jimmy Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo © Luca Masters, General Wesc on, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

James Earl Carter, Jr. was the thirty-ninth President of the United States (1977 - 1981). Shortly after leaving office, President and Mrs. Carter founded the nonprofit Carter Center, in association with Emory University. Since 1982, the Carter Center has helped advance world peace and health. The NARA-run Jimmy Carter Library adjoins the Carter Center and shares the landscape architecture. The entire 35-acre park, known as the Carter Presidential Center, has modernized the intent of Presidential Libraries from centers of Presidential adoration to nonprofit think tanks and humanitarian initiatives.

About the Jimmy Carter Library:

Dedicated: October 1986; archives opened January 1987
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Architect: Jova/Daniels/Busby of Atlanta; Lawton/Umemura/Yamamoto of Honolulu
Size: approximately 70,000 square feet
Landscape Architects: EDAW, Inc. of Atlanta and Alexandria, Virginia; Japanese Garden designed by Japanese master gardener, Kinsaku Nakane

Learn More:

Sources: Frequently Asked Questions, the Carter Center; History of the Jimmy Carter Library; General Information [accessed April 16, 2013]

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Ronald Reagan Library, Simi Valley, California

Red tiled roofs of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Reagan Library ©Randy Stern, Victory & Reseda on,, CC BY 2.0

Ronald Reagan was the fortieth President of the United States (1981 - 1989).

About the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library:

Dedicated: November 4, 1991
Location: Simi Valley, California
Architect: Stubbins Associates, Boston, MA
Size: 150,000 square feet total; 29 acre campus on 100 acres
Cost: $40.4 million (construction contract); $57 million total
Style: regional traditional Spanish mission, with red tile roof and central courtyard (similar to the Nixon Library)

Learn More:

Source: Library Facts, The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum [accessed April 14, 2013]

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George Bush Library, College Station, Texas

George Herbert Walker Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas
George Herbert Walker Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. Photo by Joe Mitchell/Getty Images, ©2003 Getty Images

George Herbert Walker Bush ("Bush 41") was the forty-first President of the United States (1989 - 1993) and father of President George W. Bush ("Bush 43"). The George Bush Presidential Library Center at Texas A & M University is a 90-acre area that is also home to the Bush School of Government and Public Service, the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation, and the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center.

Note: The George Bush library is in College Station, Texas. The George W. Bush Library is at the Bush Center in nearby Dallas, Texas.

About the George Bush Presidential Library:

Dedicated: November 1997; the library's research room opened January 1998, according to Presidential Records Act guidelines
Architect: Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum
Contractor: Manhattan Construction Company
Size: approximately 69,049 square feet (library and museum)
Cost: $43 million

Learn More:

Sources: Abous Us; Press Room; Fact Sheet at ( [accessed April 15, 2013]

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William J. Clinton Library, Little Rock, Arkansas

William J. Clinton Presidential Library, designed by James Stewart Polshek, in Little Rock, Arkansas.
William J. Clinton Presidential Library, designed by James Stewart Polshek, in Little Rock, Arkansas. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images

William Jefferson Clinton was the forty-second President of the United States (1993 - 2001). The Clinton Presidential Library and Museum is located within the Clinton Presidential Center and Park, on the banks of the Arkansas River.

About the William J. Clinton Presidential Library:

Dedicated: 2004
Location: Little Rock, Arkansas
Architect: James Stewart Polshek and Richard M. Olcott of Polshek Partnership Architects (renamed Ennead Architects LLP)
Landscape Architect: George Hargreaves
Size: 167,000 square feet; 28 acre public park; glass-walled penthouse
Style: modern industrial, shaped like a bridge
Project Description: "The architectural and site design of this Presidential complex maximizes public park acreage, responds to its riverfront location, connects downtown Little Rock with North Little Rock, and preserves a historic railroad station bridge. To achieve these objectives, the main body of the Center is turned perpendicular to the river and elevated off the ground plane, allowing the new 30=acre city park along the south bank of the Arkansas River to flow underneath....The building's curtainwall incorporates a solar screening interlayer, and the interior environment features demand-controlled ventilation and radiant-floor heating and cooling. Materials were selected for their regional availability, recycled content and low chemical emissions."—Ennead Architects Project Description

Learn More:

Sources: Ennead Architects Project Description; "Archive Architecture: Setting the Spin in Stone" by Fred Bernstein, The New York Times, June 10, 2004 [accessed April 14, 2013]

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George W. Bush Library, Dallas, Texas

George W.Bush Presidential Library and Museum Entrance by Robert A.M. Stern, dedicated 2013
George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum at The Bush Center, Dallas, Texas. Photo by Peter Aaron/Otto for Robert A M Stern Architects ©All rights reserved TheBushCenter

George W. Bush, son of President George H. W. Bush, was the forty-third President of the United States (2001 - 2009). The library is located within a 23-acre park on the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas. His father's Presidential Library, The George Bush Library, is in nearby College Station.

About the George W. Bush Presidential Center:

Dedicated: April 2013
Location: Dallas, Texas
Architect: Robert A. M. Stern Architects LLP (RAMSA), New York, New York
Contractor: Manhattan Construction Company
Landscape Architect: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), Cambridge, Massachusetts
Size: 226,000 square feet on three floors (museum, archives, institute and foundation)
Construction Material: Masonry (red brick and stone) and glass exterior; steel and reinforced concrete structure; 20 percent recycled materials, regionally sourced; green roof; solar panels; native plantings; 50 percent on site irrigation

Learn More:

Sources: By the Numbers: The George W. Bush Presidential Center (PDF), Bush Center; Design and Construction Team at, Bush Center [accessed April 2013]

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