Laura Bush wanted to make sure her husband's presidential center reflected their Texas roots, and it does -- right down to the building's limestone base from the Midland area, where they both grew up and lived after they were married.
The former first lady led the design committee for the 226,000-square-foot George W. Bush Presidential Center, which houses the 43rd president's library, museum and policy institute. The center, which opens to the public May 1, will be dedicated Thursday at Laura Bush's alma mater of Southern Methodist University, not far from the couple's Dallas home.
"I wanted it to have the Texas feel that this building does because that's where we're from," Laura Bush told The Associated Press in a phone interview last week. "I also wanted the building to be modern-looking, to be forward-looking because George was president during the very first decade of our new century."
The building includes red brick to blend in to SMU's Georgian architecture. There's also a 67-foot-high, "lantern" made of limestone that serves as a focal point for the center and pays tribute to the domed Dallas Hall on the campus.
The Bush center features woodwork from Texas tees, including mesquite hardwood floors and pecan paneling. And the center's 15-acre urban park recreates a Texas prairie complete with a wildflower meadow, a new blend of native grasses and even trees transplanted from the Crawford ranch.
The former president says his wife's touch can be seen throughout the property, even in picking the building and landscape architects.
"The building is spectacular and the gardens are going to be great, and she gets a lot of credit for that," George W. Bush told The Associated Press last week. "I was on the sideline -- watching, of course, but deferring to her judgment and tastes."
It was announced this month that the building had gotten the highest certification -- platinum -- from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. In addition to getting many materials from within 500 miles of the site, other eco-friendly features include green roofs in three different areas and a cistern that will gather rainwater and provide half of the site's irrigation.
Architect Robert A.M. Stern says the former first lady influenced the design throughout the project.
"She has a very good eye," Stern said. "She gives the architect his own space and then let's the architect present his ideas, at least this architect. And then she thinks about it. Sometimes she speaks directly at the time and sometimes she ... sleeps on it and we talk later. But it's been a very productive and rewarding process from my point of view."
NBC 5 will provide live coverage of the George W. Bush Presidential Center on Thursday at 10 a.m. We will provide an encore presentation Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on COZI-TV on Digital Channel 5.2