Experiencing Great Architecture and Creative Built Environments

James Stewart Polshek FAIA

Clinton Presidential Center – Interior (2004)

James Stewart Polshek FAIA, Architect

1200 President Clinton Avenue, Little Rock, AR 72201

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Visited April 26, 2013

While at the Museum, have lunch at the museum cafe, FortyTwo

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Clinton Presidential Center – Exterior (2004)

James Stewart Polshek FAIA, Architect

1200 President Clinton Avenue, Little Rock, AR 72201

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Visited April 25 & 26, 2013

I finally got the opportunity to visit the William J. Clinton Presidential Center. Over the years I have heard other architects joking that it looks like a single wide trailer. I was shocked to chat with a local woman in Little Rock who found out that I was an architect there to see the Clinton Center – she leaned over and quietly said “I think it looks like a single wide trailer”.

I have seen other James Stewart Polshek buildings and know that they are striking, well detailed modern objects. This is no exception. This building is described as a bridge…at least the beginning of a bridge cantilevered out at the river’s edge. He uses the bridge reference literally from the adjacent abandoned railroad bridge, and figuratively from Clinton’s “Bridge to the Future” acceptance speech. This square tube truss dramatically cantilevers out toward the river at the eastern edge of downtown Little Rock. The western facade has fritted glass panels suspended several feet in front of the truss frame creating a sunscreen shielding the interior space. At night this glass curtain glows with the light from inside the museum. The cross bracing structural members on the ends are purposely placed off center to create a dynamic frame in what could have been a bland facade. It did not disappoint. Well done.

As far as the local’s reference to it looking like a single wide trailer, The Clinton Presidential Center is not alone with nicknames.  Polshek’s Biomedical Science Research Building on the University of Michigan Campus is known as the “Pringle” building by locals – due to the potato chip shaped roof of the auditorium sited prominently out front. I am sure that James Stewart Polshek would not approve of either.

While visiting the Museum, have lunch at the museum cafe, FortyTwo


Biomedical Science Research Building (2006)

Polshek Partnership (now Ennead Architects), Architect

The University of Michigan Main Campus

109 Zina Pitcher Place, Ann Arbor, MI

Aerial View and Map Link

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Photos taken November 5, 2011

Driving north on Washtenaw Avenue right at the curve where the road turns into East Huron Street, this building is directly in front of you, sited to command your attention. The curvy double glazed facade of the offices forms a backdrop for the windowless auditorium building which sits by itself in front. The laboratories are in more traditional rectangular blocks to the north and the west of the site. The laboratories are linked to the offices with an atrium. See the aerial view link above to get a plan view of the building’s organization. In the space between the double glazing of the office facade are rolling cages for window washing on tracks, a modern intrepertation of the old library ladders.

Many years ago, while working on a small project within one of James Stewart Polshek’s notable projects in NewYork City, I had a meeting in their New York office with the project architect. Mr. Polshek happened to come into the conference room and I had a conversation with him, albiet a brief one. After being introduced, Mr. Polshek turned to me and said “oh, you are the retail guy”, then turned and walked out of the room. Well perhaps “conversation” is an exaggeration, as I think the only thing I was able to say to him before he walked out was “nice to meet you”. But I can say I met him, and I guess he can say he has met me….as he enjoys his retirement in his apartment in Paris.

The Polshek Partnership, now called Ennead Architects, has designed some finely detailed and interesting projects for mostly institutional and corporate clients. They have been able to produce some interesting, unique and occasionally bold buildings for these clients that are usually controlled by large board of directors – which traditionally results in boring, least-common-denominator designs. Check out some of their notable projects including the Clinton Presidential Library, The New York Standard Hotel, and The Rose Center for Earth and Science at the American Museum of Natural History.

Architect’s Project Profile Information

University of Michigan Building Profile Webpage