Friday, February 17, 2012
They Don’t Like Monument to Ike: Gehry Design Battered by Heavy Shelling
U.S. President and World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower has been gone from the national stage for more than half a century, having concluded two terms as president in 1961 (he passed away in 1969).
But the late, great Army five-star general and Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe remains at the center of a boiling controversy that pits admirers of the contemporary design conceptualizations of the celebrity architect Frank Gehry against a battalion of public-architecture traditionalists who are up in arms about Gehry’s concept for the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The warring parties have been dug in for some time, but the traditionalist camp may be managing a bit of forward progress in this 21st century version of World War I’s Western Front.
The critics of Gehry’s design have picked up some important allies of late, including Eisenhower family members who say the Gehry plan “overemphasizes” his humble Kansas origins while failing to recognize his feats as Allied commander and his statesmanship as President.
Others are less polite in their judgment of on the Gehry proposal. A spokesman for the National Civic Art Society, a group that has mounted an all-out offensive against the Gehry plan, called the design an “atrocity” in a conversation with this particular Durability + Design news bureau.
“Almost no one has come out in favor of the Gehry design,” said Eric Wind, past president, chairman emeritus and current secretary of the Civic Art Society. The group was formed in 2002 to “promote classical architecture and art, and reform government patronage toward architecture and art,” he told D+D.
|Gehry’s Eisenhower Memorial plan has been harshly criticized by supporters of traditional classical architecture and Eisenhower family members.|
The Civic Art Society has, Sherman-like, engaged in Total War against the Gehry design and the appearance of inevitability of its enshrinement as the newest monumental memorial on the Capital Mall. The society actually conducted a “Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Counterproposal Competition” last year, and announced first- second- and third-prize winners, and two other “commendations.” (See Eisenhower Memorial Counterproposal Competition.)
Wind and the Civic Art Society say the National Capital Planning Commission, which wields decision-making power over public architecture in Washington, has closed its eyes and ears to the idea of an open architectural competition for the memorial. The Eisenhower Memorial Commission invited 40 or so hand-picked firms to submit proposals. That approach, he said, goes against recent precedent followed in choosing designs for the Martin Luther King, Vietnam Veterans and World War II memorials.
“Maya Lin was an unknown,” Wind said of the youthful creator of the winning design for the Vietnam memorial. “The Martin Luther King competition had 900 applications, and this one had 44,” he said of the Eisenhower memorial process. “It’s not even clear that one needs to be a major architectural firm to design a memorial.
“We believe they should go back and have an open competition. We’ve allocated $60 million toward the design and construction of this memorial, and the Eisenhower Memorial Commission is requesting another nearly $60 million. The government wouldn’t go out and buy cars and planes without an open competitive bidding process, so why is this not a competitive bidding process?”
As for the Gehry design, Wind says “almost no one has come out in favor of it,” while notable critics have included the traditionalist architect Leon Krier, Harvard University professor of international relations Stephen Walt, and Chicago investment manager/philanthropist and traditionalist architecture supporter Richard Driehaus.
Prof. Walt, in a post in Foreign Policy, called the Gehry design an “elaborate and soulless structure whose paved walkways also celebrate—are you ready for this—the interstate highway system. “ (See Who Likes Ike? Not Frank Gehry.)
|The National Civic Art Society chose a submission by Daniel W. Cook of Atlanta as the winner of its “Eisenhower Memorial Counterproposal Competition.”|
Besides the Gehry design’s mystifying “columns” and “tapestries” (are the 80-foot-high pillars missile silos, I-70 overpass supports, or what?), there’s the plan’s concept for a statue of Ike as a barefoot boy from the Kansas prairie. The Eisenhower heirs are particularly troubled by this way of memorializing the man who led the campaign that vanquished Hitler’s Germany.
Not that the Gehry design has been universally panned. Looking favorably upon the concept is Philip Kennicott, the noted Washington Post architecture critic; see Gehry’s Eisenhower Memorial reinvigorates the genre.
We’ll leave the educated criticism to others, but it certainly would seem to be the democratic thing to do if the design arbiters in the Capital would pause before taking the Gehry plunge.
As the Civic Art Society’s Wind says, no Washington monument has been steamrolled to approval and construction in the face of opposition from the family of the project’s subject.
This is a republic, after all, and the citizens should have some say in how we hail the hero Ike.
Developments in the Civic Art Society’s campaign can be followed at www.eisenhowermemorial.net.
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Comment from marc chavez, (2/27/2012, 11:44 AM)
The author’s point is agood one and certainly a large number of detractors should bring caution to the fore in deciding an issue like this
However as a purely aesthetic comment….from the image included in the article and their web site, the Civic Art Society’s winning design is a simplistic half baked piece of Romanesque trash. The Romans did triumphal arches better than this 2000 years ago.
I'm not a designer. In fact I’m a tech geek – but I am an architect. I often rail against modern design and it's seemingly soulless blank facades and sharp corners, not to mention many - impossible to build (or waterproof ) details that are certainly “clean” but don’t keep the water out.
Mr Gehry’s design, again from only a hand full of images available on the web, is far more successful even with just 5 minutes look early on a Monday morning without benefit of coffee. I love history, old architecture and many of the nations more traditional monuments. – but the Civic Art Societies winner – isn’t