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Planning Panel Likes Ike Memorial

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

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Stalled for years in controversy, a design for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial has finally taken a critical step forward.

The National Capital Planning Commission, which oversees planning in Washington, D.C., voted 10-1 Thursday (Oct. 9) to give preliminary approval to a scaled-down version of the $142 million memorial design presented last month. The commission had rejected an earlier version of the design in April.

The design revisions by Frank Gehry Architects 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.

Photos: Eisenhower Memorial Commission

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

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

The project now moves to the federal Commission of Fine Arts, whose green light would allow construction to begin.

'Planet of the Apes'

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.

The new design still has critics, including the Eisenhower family, who reportedly do not like the tapestries and columns. An amendment presented at the Planning Commission meeting last week 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, had said he would remove his name from the project if the design were altered further, and the motion failed on a 5-4 vote with two abstentions.

IkeMemorial Ike memorial screen

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

Ellen McCarthy, acting director of the D.C. Office of Planning, told Roll Call that the columns reminded her of "latter scenes of Planet of the Apes."

Moving Forward

Like it or not, however, the Planning Commission is trying to move the project forward.

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.

Despite the problems, however, "we can't go back to square one," Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told the Planning Commission last month, Roll Call reported. “We can't throw away 15 years."

Issa's staff representative to the Planning Commission voted for the design, as did the staffer's Senate counterpart.

New Ike Design
Eisenhower Memorial - 4/14

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.

The single "no" vote came from commissioner Elizabeth Ann White, the president's appointment, who had proposed moving or relocating the columns.

'Important Milestone'

In a statement, Gehry thanked the Planning Commision "for its decision and for its cooperative engagement in reolving the issues."

Rocco Siciliano, an Eisenhower Administration alum who has led the Memorial Commission since 2001, called the Planning Commission's preliminary approval "an important milestone." He added: "We all look forward to the next steps that will keep the memorial moving forward."

Once the design is approved, a challenge awaits over construction funding. Congress has appropriated a total of $65 million for the project over 15 years but, in February, denied $50 million in construction funding.


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

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