Gehry Unveils Design for Eisenhower Memorial

The Eisenhower Memorial Commission has released the designs for a new monument to President Dwight Eisenhower that will sit near the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.. Frank Gehry won the design competition organized by the GSA’s design excellence program. The Eisenhower Memorial is just the seventh one constructed for a U.S. president. 

The Washington Post says the design, which received “totally unanimous” support from the commission, is a departure for Gehry. “The memorial, which will be built on a four-acre parcel just south of the Mall […], will be a mix of traditional and contemporary elements, but none of them scream Frank Gehry.” Frank Gehry commented on the site’s comtemplative mood: “The approach to the design was to create a cohesive and important civic space and urban monument in the heart of the capital region that provides a quiet and contemplative space for learning about the vast accomplishments of President Eisenhower. He was a masterful but modest leader. My aim was to capture that spirit with the design.”

The design chosen by the commission was the most “elaborate” of three ideas submitted by Gehry. “Gehry has proposed closing off a newly defined square defined by the intersection of Independence and Maryland avenues and Fourth and Sixth streets SW. The north and south sides of ‘Eisenhower Square’ will be limned by huge limestone columns, the interior filled with a grove of large oaks and a semicircular space made of a rough assemblage of monolithic stone blocks. There will also be carvings and inscriptions and a service building.”

According to The Architect’s Newspaper, the thirteen limestone columns that surround the site are a “homage to the neoclassical Jefferson and Lincoln memorials.”

In addition, the memorial will include educational components. “At the center of these stands a grove of oak trees through which visitors will walk to view presentations on Eisenhower’s many accomplishments. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the design is a series of massive woven stainless-steel tapestries that hang from the colonnade. The tapestries will depict scenes from Ike’s life on a grand scale.” 

In fact, there’s some controversy about those stainless steel tapestries. The Washington Post writes that the new metal tapestries could impact views out of the Department of Education, and “limit light and affect sightlines for workers who once had views to the Mall.” Gehry tried to adress these concerns at the hearing, saying that the metal tapestry would be translucent and stand some 90 to 100 feet away from the Education Department building. “Having said that, we’re very concerned about that issue.”

Preserving key views is big in on the Mall. Overall, Gehry Partners tried to arrange the memorial’s elements so they preserve the direct corridor down Maryland Avenue to the Capitol building. Gehry broke apart the series of columns so they don’t block views.

The site’s location also presented a challenge for Gehry. Surrounded by monolithic government office buildings, the site itself is awkward. Gehry said: “I saw the site, and I freaked out. Oh my God, how are we going to deal with this kind of site?’

The success of Gehry’s designs will be decided, in large part, by the levels of pedestrian traffic. If the columns create a “Soviet”-style authoritarian public space that’s “dehumanizing,” people may avoid it instead of going in to learn about Eisenhower’s work. Additionally, the site needs to be compelling enough to pull tourists off the central Mall area.

The Washington Post is dubious the site can be sucessfully integrated into the rest of the Mall: “It may make the city’s most desirable, tourist-trafficked spine feel a bit wider — and perhaps attract History Channel types, veterans and war pilgrims who can now visit the World War II memorial, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Eisenhower Memorial in one long stroll. But it doesn’t open the Mall up to the larger city. It moves the boundaries, but with a giant metal scrim attached to stone tent poles, it doesn’t dissolve them.”

The project is expected to cost somewhere in the range of $90 and $120 million, and will be completed by 2015. Congress has appropriated $19 million for the project to date.

Learn more at the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.

Image credit: Gehry Partners / The Architect’s Newspaper

2 thoughts on “Gehry Unveils Design for Eisenhower Memorial

  1. Luke 03/31/2010 / 3:35 pm

    After reading about the Eisenhower design in various sources, I can’t say that I’m happy with the selected design. This proposal doesn’t seem to push the envelope in any imaginative way whatsoever. A budget of $90-$120 million and a relatively short walking distance guarantees this site will have visitors, but it doesn’t mean the design is anything above mediocre.

    As this design is introduced, landscape architects continue to advocate for meaningful funds to restore the national mall, the “front lawn” of our nation’s capital. But to what end must our nation’s front lawn suffer from unimaginative, dated forms of design when a budget of $90-$120 million allows for a significant integration of “sustainability” into the site’s and the mall’s agenda? Has any consideration been given to the Sustainable Sites Initiative or LEED? This site could have been a fantastic opportunity to integrate this level of sustainability into 21st century memorial design, and being that this is the first memorial since Halprin’s FDR memorial, I say this design fell seriously short of filling big shoes.

  2. Lori Schanche 04/06/2010 / 10:58 am

    So how about providing links to more photos, or did I miss that?

    It seems a publication like the Dirt, which caters to LA’s, would realize enquiring minds would appreciate seeing the plans and a location map.

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