"This is the kind of commission that only happens once in a lifetime." That's what noted architect James Polshek, founder of Polshek Partnership Architects, had to say when offered the opportunity to design the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center & Library in Little Rock, Ark. At the dedication ceremonies held earlier this year, 30,000 invited guests braved the rain to watch "The Man From Hope" open the library, archive and museum dedicated to his presidency and whose design he directly influenced.

Make it green

With a directive to Polshek and his partner Richard Olcott to "make it green" more than anything, Clinton wanted to make his "Gift to the American Heartland" an environmentally sustainable/responsible complex reflective of his administration's environmental achievements, policies, concerns and activism. The Polshek Partnership (founded in 1963) is no stranger to high profile projects. To open in 2006, the Newseum, in Washington, will house a museum dedicated to journalism. In New York City, the Natural History Museum's Rose Center for Earth & Space won critical acclaim for its innovative design. With natural light flooding in from extensive use of glass on the façade, large open spaces inviting exploration and an emphasis on the scenic western vistas, the Clinton Presidential Center & Library is, perhaps, the most interactive and inviting of all presidential centers.

The site-28 acres directly east of downtown Little Rock, on a run-down former industrial area ("Brownfield") consisting of old warehouses and undeveloped land straddling the south bank of the Arkansas River-was selected to create a new riverfront park linked to a chain of existing riverfront parks. It also is expected to provide the anchor and catalyst for Little Rock's future eastward expansion. To emphasize the center's link with downtown Little Rock, the main entrance is on an axis with East Markham St. and the Rock Island Railroad Bridge. The bridge, which is on the site, has been refurbished as a pedestrian crossing providing a direct link with North Little Rock.

Pont Nouveau

Along with the Rock Island RR Bridge, the site includes the Main Building (a.k.a. "Bridge Building") that encompasses 80,000 square feet and features a two-story high (240 feet long by 40 feet high) exhibition space for both permanent and temporary exhibits, support space for archivists and scholars, multi-purpose event facilities, an education and media center, 80-seat theater, research offices and a café. Polshek's initial idea was to orient the building to the north, facing the Arkansas River.

However, the best views are to the west, perpendicular to the river. Polshek simply turned and lifted the main building 90 degrees to form an elevated, giant steel truss clad in glass and metal cantilevered over the park and river. This design concept went over well with the building's namesake since it provided a metaphor for his hometown-Little Rock-famous for its "Six Bridges" over the Arkansas River. More significant, Clinton recognized the powerful symbolism bridges have held in the hearts of men since ancient times.

The Romans were the first great bridge building civilization and many of their stone-arch bridges and aqueducts are still in use. These bridge builders were held in such high regard that the Roman emperors took on the title "Pontifex Maximus" (great bridge builder) for themselves. This tradition lives on in the title bestowed upon the head of the Roman Catholic Church (the Pope): Pontif.

Clinton considered his terms in office (dominating the last decade of the 20th century) to be a "bridge to the 21st century." The powerful image of the library's main building representing a symbolic "Seventh Bridge" across the Arkansas River was not lost on the former head of state.

A house for the ages

A two-story, 70,000-square-foot stone and concrete pavilion, linked to the main building on the north side, serves as the Archive Building. The core collection to be housed in the archive building includes:

• 76 million pages of paper documents

• 75,000 museum artifacts

• Nearly two million photographs

With a practical need to protect these historic documents and artifacts from the effects of harmful ultraviolet light, temperature variations, moisture, etc., the archive straddles the grade above and below ground-beyond the reach of the Arkansas River's flood plain. Sophisticated fenestration (glazing) was used to eliminate UV light and reduce solar heat gain while state-of-the-art security/fire safety/temperature/humidity control systems were installed throughout. The secure-collection of the Clinton Presidential Archives are housed below grade and are administered by the National Archives and Record Administration.

A third building, the refurbished historic Choctaw Station (1899), houses the Clinton Public Policy Institute and the Clinton School of Public Service. All aspects of sustainable design/construction were incorporated into the design of the complex earning it silver certification under the USGBC LEED green building rating/certification program.

The Clinton Presidential Center & Library reflects well the era of the '90s, when Clinton served as president for two consecutive terms. It was at this time that the green building movement came out of its shell and into the light of day, thanks in no small part to the USGBC's LEED program (established in the mid-'90s with the first LEED pilot-projects certified by the millennium). The LEED program played a crucial role in that progressive decade, thus, it is entirely appropriate that the complex of buildings that house the records of the nation's leader at that time be LEED certified and reflect the sea-change in the American public's awareness and thinking whereby the importance of the built environment was brought to the fore.

Green Features

Here follows a summary of the green features of the Clinton Presidential Library & Center:

Building Envelope

Aluminum Panels: Alucobond lightweight aluminum composite panels by Alcan Inc.


Stainless Facade: stainless steel structural system by ASI Advanced Structures Inc. (www.asidesign.com)

Glass Screen: custom glass screen wall (encloses west porch) by Cesar Color Inc.

High Performance Glass: Solarscreen 2000 and VE-2M by Viracon Inc. (www.viracon.com)

Seamless Roof Membrane: monolithic membrane 6125 by American Hydrotech Inc. (www.hydrotechusa.com)

Solar Energy: Powerguard Roof System by Power Light Corp. (www.powerlight.com).

Enough energy is generated during the daytime to power 50 homes via 311 tiles covering 4,800 square feet.

Steel Screen: stainless steel screen wall (encloses top two floors) with 40 percent open area (3/8-inch diameter holes staggered 9/16-inch off-center pattern). By Centria Architectural Systems


Exterior Panels: pre-cast concrete panels by Arkansas Precast Corp. (www.arkansasprecast.com)


Aluminum Ceiling Panels: 9,000 square feet of Arboreal lightweight aluminum ceiling panels with carbonized a carbonized Bamboo veneer. By Ceilings Plus Inc. (www.ceilingsplus.com)

Bamboo Flooring: EcoWood by D&M Bamboo Flooring (www.dmbamboo.com).

Solid Bamboo carbonized for a rich, brown coloration (bamboo trees mature in five to six years).

Lighting Controls: lighting control system by Lutron Electronics Inc. (www.lutron.com).

Controls both the natural and electric light to reduce glare.

Motorized Shades: solar shades by Mechoshade Systems Inc. (www.mechoshade.com).

Interfaces with the lighting control system. Used in classrooms, exhibit area and upper-level conference areas.