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Ike Memorial Clears Planning Panels

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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Despite scathing criticism, a controversial design for a national memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower will go forward with approval from two key agencies.

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.

The two approvals will move the project out of the design phase and into construction after 15 years.

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.

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."

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.

'Planet of the Apes'

The new design still has critics, including the Eisenhower family, who reportedly do not like the tapestries and columns. 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.

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."

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

IkeMemorial Ike memorial screen

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

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.

'Strong Project'

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

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

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 project's 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 resolving 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."

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.

Meanwhile, 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; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management

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