The museum is part of the 226,000-square-foot George W. Bush Presidential Center, which houses two brick-and-Texas-limestone buildings constructed almost as one. One building contains the library and museum, which will be under the control of the National Archives and Records Administration. The other is home to the George W. Bush Institute, a think tank that carries on work that Bush began in office.
Designed by Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, the complex sits on 23 acres on the SMU campus and includes 15 acres of grounds planted with native Texas trees, wildflowers and grasses. The buildings have received a LEED platinum certification for energy efficiency and sustainable development.
The Bush archives include more than 70 million pages of paper records, 200 million e-mails and 4 million digital photographs, according to a fact sheet from the Bush Center. There are roughly 80 terabytes of digital material overall.
The first of the president’s papers will be released early next year, but the bulk of his presidential record will not be available for a decade or more because of federal statutes governing presidential papers and time needed to process the huge amount of material.
The museum takes visitors through all aspects of Bush’s life and presidency, beginning in West Texas, where he was reared by his father, George H.W. Bush, and mother, Barbara. One of the first visuals visitors will see is a wall-size photograph of the Texas night sky taken at the Bush ranch in Crawford, which served as a kind of summer White House when he was in office.
Visitors then move on to the 2000 election, which features videos from election night as Bush was declared, and then undeclared, the winner when the vote count in Florida narrowed dramatically.
The displays include a butterfly ballot from Palm Beach County, Fla., which caused confusion among many voters on Election Day 2000, as well as a small quilt that is designed with replicas of newspaper front pages chronicling the recount.
The presidency that Bush had hoped for when he was inaugurated is the theme of the next section: the tax cuts he enacted, most of which were just made permanent at the end of last year; the education reform bill he passed with the help of the late senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.); and his faith-based initiative — all of which occurred in the first eight months he was in office.
Once past the section that covers Sept. 11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the fight against terrorism, less-controversial Bush initiatives — including the effort to combat HIV-AIDS in Africa — come into focus.
One feature likely to be popular is the replica of Bush’s Oval Office. Museum designers have been sticklers in trying to make the exhibit as exact as possible, down to its siting with the back windows facing south. Visitors will be able to walk into the Oval Office and be photographed behind the presidential desk.
Mark Langdale, president of the George W. Bush Foundation, described the opening of the library and museum as the part of the birth of the historic perspective on this president that he said started with Bush’s 2010 memoir. He said the former president and first lady Laura Bush were heavily involved in architectural decisions, as well as in how the story of the presidency is told in the museum.
“Historians will start adding other points of view and doing what happens over time,” Langdale said. “But this is a reflection of what [the Bushes] think is important about what happened in their service.”
Karen Hughes, who served as counselor to Bush in the White House, said visitors will gain a sense “of the principles and values” that guided Bush in office. “He told the designer that he wanted to present the facts . . . and let people draw their own conclusions.”
Discuss this topic and other political issues in the politics discussion forums.