Lawmakers Seek To Halt Eisenhower Memorial Design

A pair of House Republicans are the latest to raise the alarm about the Frank Gehry project.
by | March 1, 2012
 

The chair of a House committee has called for work on the President Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial to be put on hiatus due to concerns about its unorthodox design.

In a letter sent this week to the National Capital Planning Commission, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), chair of the House Administration Committee, questioned the project, which he described as a "contemporary design" that clashes with the more classical work already in place on the National Mall. Lungren's committee oversees memorial designations, among other issues.

"A memorial that is meant to last for the ages deserves ample time to be done correctly," Lungren wrote. "Unfortunately, the memorial, as currently envisioned, does not adequately commemorate his accomplishments nor does it enjoy the necessary level of support to be accepted as a national tribute to General and President Eisenhower". Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) also signed the letter.

The memorial, designed by Frank Gehry, is tentatively scheduled to be completed in 2015.

As Governing reported last year, Gehry's design features a central plaza with a grove of trees, giant columns and huge metal “tapestries” featuring scenes of Eisenhower's native Kansas. It also includes bas reliefs adorned with images of Eisenhower as a president and as a general, as well as a sculpture of him as a child.

It will be located just off the National Mall, between the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the Department of Education headquarters.

View Eisenhower Memorial in a larger map

Supporters say Gehry is redefining the concept of a memorial and believe its emphasis on his roots is the perfect concept for a president who was humble, despite all he accomplished.

But critics say it's too different, too big, and too cold, and the design has little to do with Eisenhower himself. They also say the metallic "tapestries" that will cover the Department of Education building and feature scenes of Kansas will deteriorate over time and will be expensive to maintain.

The Republican lawmakers are only the latest observers to call on members of the commission to put the current design on hold and select a plan that has more broad support. "It's a genuine moral issue," said Justin Shubow, president and chairman of the National Civic Art Society, one of the leading advocates against the Gehry design, in an interview with Governing. "There's nothing sacred or transcendent about this design."

Gehry himself has remained steadfast. "The Lincoln Memorial is a Greek temple -- what's that got to do with Lincoln?" he said at a Washington event last year when a critic questioned his project's relevance to Eisenhower.

Gehry was selected as the designer in March 2010. As details of the design have been revealed, members of the Eisenhower family have also grown increasingly vocal in their criticism, putting up a united front in their demand that the commission reconsider the issue.

"The problem with this [Gehry] design is that it’s like a theme park," Susan Eisenhower, the president's granddaughter, recently told Washingtonian magazine. "If you want to define appropriateness, just put him in a more traditional setting, in a more modest and sustainable way."

The National Capital Planning Commission will meet in April to discuss the memorial.

 

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