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Gehry Scales Down Ike Memorial

Monday, September 8, 2014

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Two towering metal tapestries and two massive columns have disappeared in a newly revised design for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial near the National Mall.

A team from Frank Gehry Architects presented the scaled-down plan Thursday (Sept. 4) to the National Capital Planning Commission, hoping to finally get the memorial design off the drawing board and under construction.

Gehry, 85, did not attend the presentation, and his representatives called the changes minor.

New Ike Design
Eisenhower Memorial - 4/14
Photos unless otherwise credited: Eisenhower Memorial Commission

The new design (top) removes two of three stainless-steel tapestries and two 80-foot-tall columns from the original (bottom), widening the view corridor.

“We don’t want to take a radical change in direction,” Craig Webb of the firm told the commission, according to news reports.

'5-Star Folly'

The planning commission rejected the design in April—another in a series of setbacks for the embattled Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission, which has not moved the project out of the design phase after 15 years and $65 million in congressional appropriations.

(Congress denied $50 million in construction funding for the project in February.)

The commission selected Gehry's original design in 2008 after a competition and has already paid his firm more than $11 million of its $19 million design contract.


The design revisions remove decorative structures and open up the view corridor.

Nevertheless, the original design by the world-renowned architect has been widely panned as too elaborate and too obstructive of the U.S. Capitol. Critics have also challenged the maintenance and durability of the project's three huge decorative stainless-steel screens, featuring scenes of Eisenhower's native Kansas.

Even Eisenhower's family has objected to the design.

In July, a staff report by U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources blasted the project as "A Five-Star Folly" in a report by the same name. The report criticizes not only the design, but the commission staff selection, the staff's budget, and the panel's contracting and fundraising processes.

New Design

The new design removes two of the project's three tapestries, leaving just one as a backdrop. Two of the site's columns, 80 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter, have also been eliminated.

Removing those columns widens the view corridor from 95 feet to 135 feet, creating "a more proportionally horizontal framed view of the U.S. Capitol," the design document says.

The revisions also allow more breathing room between the columns and the Independence Avenue right-of-way.

IkeMemorial Ike memorial screen

The East and West stainless-steel tapestries (right) have been eliminated. The statues will remain.

The design team met with Planning Commission staff three times to review the proposed changes, the document says. It says the team has satisfied two of three design principles the commission had highlighted and is working on the third.

'Excellent Compromise'

The revisions drew a positive response from several commission members, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

Mina Wright, director of planning and design for the General Services Administration, said she was "sorry to see the side tapestries go, but I think this is an excellent compromise, which we must do,” the news outlet reported.

The naysayers, however, will clearly still need convincing.

Frank Gehry
Creative Commons

Celebrity architect Frank Gehry did not attend the presentation of his revised plan, but his staff said the changes had Gehry's support. Gehry's firm has a $19 million contract (including options) for the design.

“I will bet any amount of money it will never get built,” Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society, told the newspaper. “The challenge is: How do you kill a zombie?”

Eisenhower Memorial Commission Chairman Rocco Siciliano calls such criticism unfair.

"It should be noted that the FDR Memorial took 41 years to complete and the controversy surrounding the Vietnam Memorial and the vilification of the young designer, Maya Lin, is still fresh in our minds, yet it is now the most visited memorial in Washington, D.C.," Siciliano said in a recent statement.


Tagged categories: Architects; Construction; Design; Frank Gehry; Government contracts; Historic Structures; Monuments; Project Management

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