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Ike Memorial Clears Last Design Hurdle

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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After languishing 15 years on the drawing boards, a national memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower has an approved design.

Despite continued criticism from the Eisenhower family and others, the controversial design for the memorial to the U.S.'s 34th president has landed its final approval.

The Commission on Fine Arts voted 3-1 on Thursday (Oct. 16) to approve a scaled-down version of the $142 million Frank Gehry design presented last month to the National Capital Planning Commission. The Planning Commission, which had rejected an earlier version of the memorial design in April, approved the modified design on Oct. 9.

EisenhowerMemorial DwightDEisenhower
Photos: Eisenhower Memorial Commission

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial design has been revised, but the president's family says it looks like a "theme park."

Together, the two approvals will move the project out of the design phase and into construction.

Design Revisions

The design revisions remove two of the project's three towering stainless-steel tapestries and two of 10 80-foot-tall columns. The largest tapestry, 447 feet long, will remain.

The Planning Commission staff recommended approval of the revised design, calling it "modern and innovative" and saying that it addressed earlier concerns.

The original design approved by the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission was widely panned as too elaborate and too obstructive of the U.S. Capitol. Critics have also questioned the maintenance needs and durability of the decorative stainless-steel tapestries.

'Theme Park'

The new design still has critics. In January 2012, Eisenhower's granddaughter Susan told Washingtonian magazine that the memorial looked "like a theme park."

National Civic Art Society President Justin Shubow derided the representation of Eisenhower as "a stock character in a fable or an episode of America's Got Talent" and "a sentimental piece of kitsch that belongs in a snow-globe," U.S. News reported.

IkeMemorial Ike memorial screen

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

An amendment presented at the Planning Commission meeting earlier this month would have asked Gehry to relocate or remove two of the remaining columns.

Gehry, whose firm has a $19 million contract for the design work, threatened to remove his name from the project if the design were altered further, and the motion failed on a 5-4 vote with two abstentions.

'Strong Project'

The Commission on Fine Arts had approved the original design and voiced support last week for the simplified version as well. Members called the new design a “substantial improvement” over the original and deemed the memorial "a strong project."

Gehry, who attended both commission votes, told the Fine Arts panel: "It's all about [Eisenhower], about trying to represent him. Who he was, his vision. His words, his life."

'Five-Star Folly'

Despite the approvals, controversy is likely to dog the project into the next phase. Congress has appropriated a total of $65 million for the project but, in February, denied $50 million in construction funding.

New Ike Design Eisenhower Memorial - 4/14

The new design (left) removes two of three towering tapestries and two 80-foot-tall columns from the original (right).

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

Now, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) has introduced legislation to scrap the design and eliminate funding for the memorial commission, saying "significant questions remain about how the commission has been operating and spending [its] funds."


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

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