Controversial Eisenhower Memorial Clears Final Hurdle

Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial / Eisenhower Memorial

After years of heated debate and seemingly-endless revisions, a simpler, stronger design for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in southwest Washington, D.C. received approval from the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC). With a scheduled ground breaking on November 2, construction finally begins on the 4-acre memorial for President Eisenhower designed by architects at Frank Gehry Partners, landscape architects at AECOM, and a team of artists. Ending years of vocal criticism, the Eisenhower family have also signed off on the final design, too.

In the evolution of the memorial, which will be found immediately south of the National Air and Space Museum on Maryland Avenue, the highly-controversial woven-steel tapestries were scaled back — there is now just one 25,000-square-foot, 440-foot-long panel instead of three. Still, the decorative scrim, which will be made up of 600 15-by-3-feet panels, will be the size of five basketball courts back to back, writes Washington Business Journal.

Proposed imagery for the monumental tapestry also evolved from a photo-realistic image of Abilene, Kansas, President Eisenhower’s birthplace, to a figurative drawing of the Pointe du Hoc cliffs at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, the site of Eisenhower’s D-Day assault on Nazi Germany in World War II.

Normandy scene on Tapestry / Frank Gehry Partners

The original 13 gigantic limestone columns, which Susan Eisenhower, President Eisenhower’s granddaughter, famously said created a “Soviet-style authoritarian public space,” also appear to be reduced to 8, but each is still a sizeable 6 stories tall.

Eisenhower Memorial column / Frank Gehry Partners

The Commission on Fine Arts (CFA), which has requested many changes to the design over the years, also gave its approval last month. In meeting notes, CFA Secretary Thomas E. Luebke wrote the CFA had inspected a mock-up of the memorial’s tapestry and supported the new “abstract approach to rendering the cliffs and seascape of the Normandy coast.” The CFA “observed that the technique of hand drawing used to generate the tapestry image conveys much more emotional power than the previously proposed photography.”

However, the CFA will continue to review the progress of the tapestry created by artist and longtime Gehry collaborator Tomas Osinski and sculptures of Eisenhower at various stages of his life by Russian American sculptor Sergey Eylanbekov. Their goal is to “strengthen the relationship of the memorial’s elements with the new tapestry image.”

The CFA already required revisions to the location of the various statues and inscriptions to improve visitors’ experience as they walk through the memorial.

Eisenhower Memorial / Frank Gehry Partners

The final landscape design preserves views of the U.S. Capitol by creating grass pathways where Maryland Avenue is now, but also increases the tree coverage and green space in an effort to create an enclosed park-like feel. According to the CFA, the tree planting design could further evolve.

Eisenhower memorial / Frank Gehry Partners and AECOM
Eisenhower Memorial / Frank Gehry Partners and AECOM

And the three landscape architects and designers on the CFA — Liza Gilbert, ASLA, Mia Lehrer, FASLA, and Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA — no doubt helped preserve the four large trees lining the site the design team sought to remove.

According to the National Review, which called the memorial a “national embarrassment” and its design a “repellent monstrosity,” the design and review process to date has already cost a whopping $105 million. The memorial itself is expected to cost $150 million. Some $25 million is expected to be raised from private funds; the rest will come from tax payer dollars, with some $45 million already allocated for this year.

No doubt debate on the merits of the design will continue far after its completion.

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