Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (April 1 – 15)

The Chicago Riverwalk / Christian Phillips

Sasaki Unveils Design for Sunqiao, a 100-Hectare Urban Farming District in Shanghai Arch Daily, 4/2/2017
“With nearly 24 million inhabitants to feed and a decline in the availability and quality of agricultural land, the Chinese megacity of Shanghai is set to realize the Sunqiao Urban Agricultural District, a 100-hectare masterplan designed by US-based firm Sasaki Associates.”

New Urban Parks and Public Spaces to See in 2017 Curbed, 4/3/2017
“The urban park, from well-manicured, small lots in residential neighborhoods to massive, city-defining landmarks such as Central Park, have long been centerpieces of city life. But in an age of climate change and evolving urban-planning concepts, parks are being viewed through many different lenses.”

Dallas Approves Construction of a New 3-acre Park in Former Downtown Parking Lot Arch Daily, 4/6/2017
“Joni Mitchell, Dallas has heard you. The City Council of Dallas has decided to un-pave a 3.2-acre parking lot—in place since 1921—and put up a paradise in the form of Pacific Plaza Park.”

Homeowners Want Their Landscapes to Stand Out on the Block Houston Chronicle, 4/7/17
“The backyard was once just about having trees, shrubs and annuals for pops of color. Today local landscape architects and designers say that stylish outdoor spaces are getting as much consideration as the homes they’re attached to.”

The 11th Street Bridge Park Isn’t Just a Vanity Project The Washingtonian, 4/12/17
“The 11th Street Bridge Park will physically connect both sides of the Anacostia River. It’s a 1,200-foot-long, pedestrian-only expanse that will let people stroll between Capitol Hill and Anacostia. The big question is whether it will socially connect them.”

You Should Care About Preserving This Lake Park BridgeMilwaukee Magazine, 4/12/17
“Do Milwaukeeans care about their Frederick Law Olmsted-designed parks and the current and potential value they offer? If the answer is yes, the debate about preserving the elegant Ravine Road Bridge in Lake Park deserves the attention of every concerned citizen.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (March 1 – 15)

Biscayne Green /  Modern Cities

Fuji Kindergarten | An Exploration of Space and Learning for Children Landscape Architect’s Network, 3/2/17
“Design is about hosting human life and activity. There are, however, projects that go beyond that, to actually shape human life and activity. Fuji Kindergarten is one of those projects. Given its educational purpose, it would be right to say that it shapes character and personality, as well.”

New Plans Revealed for Detroit’s East Riverfront Architect’s Newspaper, 3/2/17
“The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy (DRFC), the City of Detorit Planning & Development Department, and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) announced the latest plans to expand Detroit’s riverfront land for public use.”

Five Competing Designs Revealed for Victims of Communism MemorialThe Ottawa Sun, 3/2/17
“The Department of Canadian Heritage Thursday revealed five competing designs for a relocated and drastically downsized Memorial to the Victims of Communism at the Garden of the Provinces and Territories on Wellington Street.”

Landscape Architecture Icons to Know Now: Cornelia Oberlander and Harriet Pattiso Curbed, 3/8/17
“Cornelia Oberlander and Harriet Pattison knew of each other long before they met: In a field with few female practitioners at the time, they were often told of “another” woman working in landscape architecture.”

In Chicago and Philadelphia, The Difference a Park Makes – The New York Times, 3/12/17
“From Philadelphia to Seattle, other American cities are also banking on parks and public spaces to drive social and economic progress.”

Miami’s Giant Pop Up Recreates Downtown Street Modern Cities, 3/13/17
“Temporary installation is the first attempt to showcase possible improvements that could transform Biscayne Boulevard in Downtown Miami into street rivaling the Embarcadero in San Francisco.”

Amur Leopards, Siberian Tigers Get New Sanctuary In China, Bigger Than YellowstoneInternational Business Times, 3/13/17
“”China has reportedly approved plans to create a national park in the northeast areas of Jilin and Heilongjiang that will span 5,600 square miles— about 60 percent bigger than Yellowstone National Park.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (February 16 – 28)

Chicago’s Martin Luther King Drive transformed by driverless cars / The Driverless City Project and Illinois Institute of Technology, via The Chicago Tribune

Driverless Cars Could Change Urban LandscapeThe Chicago Tribune, 2/17/17
“If self-driving cars lead to a significant drop in the number of vehicles on the road, parking garages could be turned into apartments or stores. Curbside parking could be converted into rainwater-collecting bio swales that help prevent sewers from backing up. Roads would narrow. Sidewalks would widen.”

Wastelands Reborn CityLab, 2/17/17
“As my colleague Laura Bliss explores in her story about New York’s Freshkills Park, some of the best parts of certain metropolitan areas are literally built on dumps. There’s a whole genre of these parks, from César Chávez Park in Berkeley to the Tiffit Nature Reserve in Buffalo.”

Ten Finalist Teams Named for U.K. National Holocaust Memorial Competition The Architect’s Newspaper, 2/23/17
“The UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation has announced its shortlist of ten teams to design the new National Holocaust Memorial and Learning Center in Victoria Tower Gardens, adjacent the Palace of Westminster and in the heart of London.”

Planners Across America: McDermid Manages New Oklahoma Land Rush Planetizen, 2/27/17
“Planning Department Director Aubrey McDermid discusses planning’s role in the Oklahoma City’s ongoing reinvestment and revitalization.”

Pershing Park and the World War I Memorial: Moving Beyond an Accumulation of Pieces The Huffington Post, 2/27/17
“One of the most important parks on the most significant stretch of America’s Main Street – Pennsylvania Avenue between the U.S. Capitol and the White House, known as the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site – remains under threat.”

Pokémon Go Adds a New Layer to Public Spaces

Pershing Square Park as depicted in Pokémon Go
Pershing Square Park as depicted in Pokémon Go

According to the National Academy of Sciences, “nature-based recreation” has decreased 25 percent in the last 40 years. The average American now spends only one half of a day per week outdoors. Furthermore, kids now spend an average of only 30 minutes or less outdoors each day, half as much as 20 years ago. Is Pokémon Go — the explosively popular game app released worldwide this month — a way to get adults and kids off their sofas and into parks and other public spaces?

After a couple of days happily playing the game, my answer is a qualified yes. The qualification: it is possible to play a circumscribed version of the game while sitting at your desk or sofa. But the game is really designed to get you out into streets, parks, and plazas. It got me out into two public places — the town square in downtown Rockville, Maryland, and Pershing Square Park in Washington, D.C. — where I had different yet intriguing experiences.

Pokémon Go, which may be downloaded on iOS and Android devices, is a free, location-based augmented reality game in which players capture adorable-looking creatures called Pokémon. The game is played not from a comfy sofa, but out in the real world.

The app provides a map of the player’s real-world surroundings. Players move outside in order to find Pokémon and capture them using Poké-balls. The map provides a handy way to locate Poké-stops, which are found in such public spaces as public art installations, historical markers, and monuments and contain additional Poké-balls and other items. Poké-gyms, where players unleash their Pokémon to fight, are also located near prominent local businesses and other attractions.

I spent my first afternoon playing the game at Rockville Town Square, a 12-acre suburban public plaza that opened in 2007, part of a larger master plan to create a “daytime, evening and weekend activity center that is easily identifiable, pedestrian-oriented and incorporates a mix of uses and activities.” Not only is it home to shops and restaurants, the square also includes a number of Poké-stops. The large crowd who congregated there on a Sunday afternoon included many Pokémon Go players, smartphones in hand, searching for virtual goodies hidden in the colorful public art.

Rockville Town Square via Better Cities & Towns / Dan Cunningham
Rockville Town Square via Better Cities & Towns / Dan Cunningham

The game turned into a communal experience as we chatted with strangers along the wide sidewalks. We all certainly benefited from Rockville’s cohesive pedestrian policies and were able to crisscross the square and surrounding streets safely with little interference from traffic. While it may be facile to urge landscape architects to create Pokémon-friendly landscapes, they should continue to design high-quality and lasting public spaces that accommodate ever-evolving recreation preferences and pedestrian safety.

A couple of days later, I felt the urge to play the game at D.C.’s Pershing Square Park, a multi-level park designed by M. Paul Friedberg + Partners that opened in 1981. It features a monument to General John J. Pershing as well as a bronze sculpture of an eagle by Lorenzo Ghiglieri — both, unsurprisingly, are Poké-stops. I spent half an hour in the park on a Thursday afternoon and quickly gathered items from the statues (this is done on the app by spinning a photo of the public art or feature).

Pokémon in Pershing Park, Washington, D.C.
Pokémon in Pershing Park, Washington, D.C.

After capturing these Pokémon, I found myself with nothing to do. The park was seemingly devoid of Pokémon, no matter where I stood, so I gave up and sat down to enjoy the calm retreat from the noisy traffic streaming on all sides. Tree branches shook in the breeze, and a parade of Falun Dafa supporters marched by. One woman paused in front of the Pershing monument, not to admire its historical significance, but to retrieve items for the game. Once she finished, she quickly walked away.

Later, a family of tourists arrived with cameras. They stood in front of the monument and photographed it and each other as they spoke in their native language. Clearly they were savoring a moment to be remembered later — a traditional experience of a public space that still serves a time-honored purpose.

My experiences with Pokémon Go, and observations of other players, show that the game may not fit the traditional definition of outdoor recreation, but it certainly creates enthusiasm for exploring your environment and engaging in physical exercise.

And perhaps this new enthusiasm for augmented reality games can be tapped to generate more creative designs of public spaces that integrate real and game worlds. Similar games are sure to come in the future.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (January 16 – 31)

Joe Weishaar & Sabin Howard / U.S. World War I Centennial Commission
Winning WWI Memorial design by Joe Weishaar & Sabin Howard / U.S. World War I Centennial Commission

Houston’s Big Green TransformationThe Huffington Post, 1/21/16
“The car-centric, zoning-averse city is undergoing a monumental transformation that is being led by landscape architecture–transformation at a scope and scale unseen in the U.S. in more than a century.”

7 Picturesque Public Parks Soon to Sprout Around the WorldForbes, 1/23/16
“Now underway on Governors Island, ‘The Hills’—designed by Dutch landscape firm West 8—will comprise of four mounds made entirely of construction debris and clean-fill material, blanketed with over 860 trees and 43,000 shrubs.”

How This Pop-up Park Engages an Excited CommunityThe Landscape Architect’s Network, 1/25/16
“When designing a site, it is necessary to research and analyze existing conditions in the beginning, but after a project is implemented, natural and human processes usually change the landscape in unexpected ways.”

Landscape Architect Sara Zewde’s Urban Monument Design Has Brazil BuzzingTadias, 1/26/16
“In the spring of 2011, Sara Zewde was on her way to Harvard’s Graduate School of Design to study landscape architecture when she found herself in the middle of a movement to preserve a historic Afro-Brazilian heritage site in the Pequena Africa (little Africa) neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro.”

World War One Centennial Commission Moves Forward, CautiouslyThe Washington Post, 1/26/16
“The World War One Centennial Commission has decided to go forward and endorse a winning design in the competition to create a new national memorial to the Great War at Pershing Park.”

WWI Centennial Commission Selects “The Weight of Sacrifice” for Memorial in Washington, D.C.Architectural Record, 1/27/16
“The United States got in and out of World War I in well under two years. The U.S. World War I Centennial Commission hopes it can move as quickly.”

Recreational, Scenic Wetlands Planned for Inner Harbor The Baltimore Sun, 1/28/16
“Three years from now, a green oasis of floating wetlands, bay grasses and terraced edges leading down to the water will greet visitors to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, under a plan unveiled today by officials of the National Aquarium.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (August 16 – 31)

Times Square Night / Wikipedia
Times Square pedestrian plaza at night / Wikipedia

Top 5 WWI Memorial Designs for D.C. Park Lean Toward the SereneThe Washington Post, 8/19/15
“On Wednesday, when a federal commission unveiled the five design finalists for the creation of a national World War I Memorial in the District’s Pershing Park, it chose less radical, if less eyepopping, concepts.”

The Cultural Landscape Foundation Opposes Demolition of Pershing Park for a World War I Memorial – The Cultural Landscape Foundation, 8/19/15
“The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) today opposed demolition of Pershing Park for the creation of a World War I Memorial following the announcement by the U.S. World War I Memorial Commission of the five finalist designs for a new memorial, all of which call for the demolition of Pershing Park.”

‘Secret Garden’ Restored at Wright’s Masterpiece FallingwaterThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/19/15
“Eric Kobal stretches across a lush planter to examine a brown leaf on a rhododendron he planted in this garden on the Pottery Terrace at Fallingwater. The sound of running water is never far away here, especially this year as Bear Run, the stream that runs under the famous property, is flowing fast and high after a summer of plentiful rain.”

Challenging Mayor de Blasio over Times Square PlazasThe New York Times, 8/21/15
“One of Mr. de Blasio’s big initiatives, Vision Zero, aims to improve pedestrian safety. Ripping up the pedestrian plazas in Times Square, restoring cars and forcing millions of people to dodge traffic again, runs headlong into his own policy.”

A National Model for Better Streets Is Suddenly at Risk CityLab, 8/24/15
“In challenging the Times Square pedestrian plaza, New York City leaders are showing a profound misunderstanding about the impact of public space.”

A Yellow GreenThe Architect’s Newspaper, 8/26/15
“About four-and-a-half miles south of Philadelphia’s Center City, a collection of highly regarded architects are proving that office parks do not have to be soulless and stuffy.”

Landscape Design Brings Communities TogetherThe Toronto Star, 8/31/15
“You are likely experiencing the wonder and significance of landscape architecture — and also probably don’t realize it.”

Commemorating Loss Through Touch

Vietnam Veterans Memorial /

“Memorials are transitional spaces, which can reduce post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Martin Holland, a professor of landscape architecture at Clemson University, at the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) conference in Los Angeles. “They are holding environments where people can approach, touch, and see losses in a secure setting.” Using two examples — the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. and the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma — Holland showed how touch is used as a design strategy to commemorate loss.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which opened in 1982, was designed by architect Maya Lin who won the national design competition. It consists of a long black granite wall in an open V shape. The wall is a timeline, with the 58,300 dead listed in chronological, not alphabetical order. This enabled a “social ordering of the space,” so visitors could find the name of their loved ones by the year of the conflict.

The names of the fallen soldiers are etched in the wall, which enable rubbings that create “haptic memories.” Lin thought that “our primary sense was touch, so she used this as a design strategy.”

Rubbing of a name on the wall / Wikipedia

“Material culture is also used to express grief.” People leave flowers, teddy bears, and other objects to commemorate their loved ones. Flowers are often inserted in the wall itself. “It’s a palimpsest that changes as people engage with it.” All the left objects are periodically swept from the site and archived.

Objects left at the memorial / U.S. Department of Defense

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial set an important precedent for many other memorials, including the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum in Oklahoma City. In 1995, a bombing orchestrated by American terrorists brought down a federal office building, killing 168 people and wounding another 680. The blast destroyed or damaged more than 340 buildings in a 16 block radius. Holland explained that approximately one-sixth of all Oklahoma City residents knew someone who died or were affected by the blast, so “for them, it’s a local tragedy.”

Holland explained that just three days after the bombing, local officials were talking about the need to create a memorial. Over the following years, in one of the “most democratized memorial design processes ever,” local officials used surveys and public meetings to gauge what people wanted. The most popular answers were “healing, peace, hope.”

In 1997, Berlin-based architects Hans and Torrey Butzer won the Oklahoma City Memorial design competition. While Hans is German, Torrey is from Oklahoma and had a connection with the city and site. They created a memorial that enabled people to touch and interact with objects that commemorated the victims. The memorial has become “the most visited tourist site in Oklahoma City.”

Visitors can enter through the Gates of Time. The bomb went off at 9:02. The first gate is marked with the time 9:01, which represents the “last moment of peace,” while the gate at the other end of the park is marked 9:03, which represents the “first moments of recovery.” Holland argued that the gates “intentionally slow you down, which increases haptic memory.”

Gates of Time / Oklahoma City National Memorial

One of the few trees that survived the blast now has a honored place in the memorial, where it has thrived. The space around the tree is a major gathering space because it’s the “only place with shade.” Nearby in the memorial, in a place enshrouded in trees, is where Timothy McVeigh parked his bomb-laden car. Holland said this was another example of turning the horrific into the healing.

Survivor Tree / Flickr

Each of the 168 victims is memorialized in a chair, which glow from within at night. The chairs for the children victims are smaller. After the official ceremony that opened the park in 2000, victims’ loved ones began decorating the chairs, leaving photographs and mementos. What is particularly sad is the “adults remember the children always as children,” but there are no photographs of them, for some reason, only toys.

Oklahoma City National Memorial / Federal News Radio

Like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, all non-perishable materials are periodically collected and archived, which then becomes available for viewing at the museum, except some of the excess teddy bears left at the memorial have been sent overseas to kids in need.

The chairs and the process of leaving mementos are another touch experience that help visitors deal with loss.

Holland argued that some people have called these mementos “kitsch and consumerist,” but he wonders if that doesn’t reflect some “class bias?”

New Video: FDR Four Freedoms Park

Photographer and video artist Barrett Doherty has created a beautiful 10-minute video that provides a vivid, experiential tour of the 4-acre Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park in New York City. First conceived by architect Louis Kahn and his close collaborator, landscape architect Harriet Pattison, in the early 1970s, the park didn’t actually open until October last year, some 40 years later. This is Kahn’s first work in New York, and last work overall. In fact, he was carrying plans of the park when he died of a heart attack in Pennsylvania Station in New York City in 1974.

The design was completed after Kahn’s death by David P. Wisdom and Associates and Mitchell/Giurgola Associates. Located east of the UN complex at east 42nd street, the park is named after the “Four Freedoms” Roosevelt articulated in his 1941 state of the union.

In Landezine, Doherty tells us the memorial was first delayed by Kahn’s death and then derailed by the ill fiscal health of New York City during the 70s and 80s. It took William J. vanden Heuvel, a former U.N. ambassador and founder of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, to launch an effort in 2005 that built the momentum needed to finally realize Kahn and Pattison’s vision. Gathering more than $50 million in private and public funds, the project began to move forward, once some legal disputes among the corporation charged with creating the memorial and the foundations involved in its financing were resolved.

Kahn’s vision for the park was a simple one. Doherty quotes from one of his lectures at the Pratt Institute in 1973:

“…I had this thought that a memorial should be a room and a garden. That’s all I had. Why did I want a room and a garden? I just chose it to be the point of departure. The garden is somehow a personal nature, a personal kind of control of nature, a gathering of nature. And the room was the beginning of architecture.”

Doherty separates the design vision into five segments, two major elements and three supporting ones:

Major elements

  • The Room “a place of inspired use.”
  • The Garden, a place where “ the wildness of the American continent gives way to the order of the room.”

Supporting elements

  • The Grove, where one receives “the invitation to visit the memorial.”
  • The Sculpture and Forecourt, provides “a most personal welcome at the foot of the garden.”
  • The House in the Garden, a place for amenities that was unbuilt.

In Landezine, he provides a detailed explanation of site details that serve as a complement to the video.

Late last year, Michael Kimmelam, architecture critic for The New York Times, reviewed the site: “It gives New York nothing less than a new spiritual heart. That’s to say it creates an exalted, austere public space, at once like the prow of a ship and a retreat for meditation. It’s a memorial, perhaps naïvely optimistic but uplifting and confident, unlike the one at ground zero. It is as solemn as the Roosevelt wartime speech it honors, a call to safeguard the freedoms of speech and worship and the freedoms from want and fear. From inside the great, open granite enclosure that Kahn called the ‘room’ at the tip of the island, a long fly ball away from the United Nations, a visitor looks out over the city and the churning waters of the East River in the direction of the Statue of Liberty, the ocean and Europe. It is the long view that Roosevelt had for America.”


On Kahn’s approach to the park, he writes that this is “probably the closest Kahn came to pure abstract art, a virtual walk-in sculpture.”

Kahn used seemingly minor details to major effect: “In the park’s room he chose to leave inch-wide gaps between the 36-ton granite blocks, polishing only the sides of the stones inside the gaps to create shiny, reflective slits that amplify narrow views through them. It’s a stroke of genius. The blocks seem to flatten when you’re peering through the gaps, a perhaps accidental Alice-in-Wonderland effect that nonetheless derives from the heightened awareness a visitor feels, as one does at some of those land-art sites, of the endlessly shifting relationship between nature and artifice.”

While Mitchell/Guirgola and other construction and engineering firms tweaked the design — by adding lighting, adjusting the layout of the trees, and adding a bust of Roosevelt — the original design is really Kahn and Pattison’s: “Kahn prescribed the size, placement, polish and crisp cut of the enormous granite blocks and parapets (from a quarry in North Carolina), which, like the ancient Egyptian stones at Giza, lend to the site a military dignity and rhythm. He chose copper beech trees for the entrance. He devised the sloping paths that hug the water and meet the plaza at the foot of the lawn. In the important ways this is Kahn’s park.”

See more images

Image credits: (1) Louis I. Kahn Foundation, (2-5) Barrett Doherty

Revised Eisenhower Memorial Design Clears Fine Arts Commission

In a 3-1 vote, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts approved the latest design incarnation of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, which is to be located on a 4.5-acre site across Independence Avenue from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The design process for the $142-million contemporary memorial has been highly contentious, with architect Frank Gehry’s approach criticized for its scale, tone, and, especially, its large metal scrims supported by 80-foot-tall columns. In the past, these scrims have basically been characterized as fascist by Susan Eisenhower, the president’s granddaughter. University of Virginia professor Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA, the only landscape architect on the commission, was the sole no vote on the commission. With the three other positive votes though, the updated design now moves to the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), unless Congress stymies the process.

Executive Director of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission, Brig. Gen. Carl W. Reddel, USAF (Ret.) started his presentation by saying this would be a “refinement of the presentation the Eisenhower Memorial commission unanimously endorsed” at its June meeting.

Famed starchitect Frank Gehry then said they had circled back to portions of the original design and brought the memorial elements closer together in a more central location in the site. He said they’d been “guided by a lot of people’s interests, including the family,” and stressed they’ve “been trying to be good listeners” in this process. Susan Eisenhower and other D.C. historical design groups have been fiercely critical of Gehry’s design in the past. It’s not clear whether any of their concerns have been ameliorated with the new designs.

In his part of the presentation, John Bowers, Gehry’s project manager on the Memorial, explored the concept of the memorial as an urban park. Bowers called attention to the added green space and pedestrian pathways, as well as enhanced alleé that follows the diagonal of Maryland Avenue, “as if the street was there.”

Through the use of forced perspective, the alleé frames and directs a view to the Capitol building.

Not really heard, however, were the words of new Fine Arts Commissioner Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA, who expressed her discomfort in approving the design. In Meyer’s opinion, the scheme couldn’t be reviewed as a whole because the landscape architecture hadn’t been fully developed. She said, the “success of this place” is going to be tied to how it functions as a park. AECOM appears to be the landscape architecture firm working on the project with Gehry.

Meyer felt strongly that it needed a “more robust architecture of trees.” She gave some suggestions to the design team, saying that the spacing of the trees along the alleé might be tightened up to reinforce the perspective, and the ground plane itself needs to be addressed at a deeper level.

Meyer was also concerned that the plantings of Midwestern prairie plants, recalling Eisenhower’s native Kansas, were generally placed under trees, effectively taking away people’s access to shade, something people really need in Washington’s summer heat.


Equating the incomplete landscape design to a building without a ceiling, she said, “the architecture of the trees needs more time and refinement.”

Meyer voted nay on approval of the design. She was the sole voice of dissent on the commission, which also consists of Vice-Chair Elizabeth Plater-Zybeck; Alex Krieger; and Edwin Schlossberg. The design was approved, with a suggestion by Krieger that Gehry remove the controversial screens on the east and west sides of the site, saying that buildings there already defined the space well enough.

Learn more about the early controversial design, which caused the House to intervene and actually vote to scrap the design and close the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. While more than $60 million has already been appropriated for the memorial, Congress can still put the kabosh on this project. The only thing that may be stopping this is a wholesale reset of the process would cost $17 million.

This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and ASLA 2013 summer intern.

Image credits: (1-3) Eisenhower Memorial / Gehry Partners, (4) Eisenhower Memorial / Heidi Petersen. ASLA

Eisenhower Memorial Controversy Grows

Debate on the nearly-final Eisenhower Memorial concepts and the process used to create them erupted today, culminating in a tense hearing on Capitol Hill. Many different views on the $115 million, 4-acre project were presented. Rep. Rob Bishop, Chairman, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, wondered whether the designs should move forward or there should be a pause to re-evaluate them. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva thought the idea of Congress wading into the design of a national monument was “unusual,” and Congress wasn’t the place to “litigate the design” concepts created by a team led by architect Frank Gehry and including landscape architects at AECOM and other firms.

Susan Eisenhower, a granddaugther of the president who is representing the Eisenhower family, said an “open, transparent, democratic process” was needed for the Eisenhower memorial and wasn’t used the first time around. Echoing criticisms made by Richard Dreihaus, an “architectural traditionalist” in The Washington Post that almost all national monuments have gone through a public design process, Eisenhower took aim at the process that was used: a review of firm qualifications by the General Service Administration (GSA)’s Design Excellence program. She said the monument must now be redesigned through a public process, and the commission needs to fundamentally review how it engages with stakeholders.

The design has been bandied about for more than two years now. But, still, the “narrative is wrong” and the 65-feet tall metal scrims are viewed as almost fascist. Eisenhower said President Eisenhower’s contributions to the U.S. are “not central,” and there’s no mention of his role in leading the “largest war effort ever in human history.” Instead, there’s a “Horatio Alger character, a boy who grew up to be president.” The Eisenhower family seems to utterly detest the metal scrim, which will display images of trees, adding that these kinds of design elements are “usually found in the Communist world.” The fact that they are made of metal may send the signal that these represent the “Iron Curtain.” Even worse: the scrims remind some Holocaust survivors she’s heard from of Internment camp fences. On top of all of this, the scrims may be expensive to maintain. (However, Gehry and the commission deny this, arguing that while that material technology is relatively new, it shouldn’t have any issues).

The family, she added, wants “something simple that focuses on his achievements.” The “scope and scale are all wrong. Eisenhower would have wanted something smaller, less dramatic. It was well-known that he wasn’t into Modern art.” The heavy stone columns could be “missile silos.” The only way to fix these issues is “redesign the entire monument,” which she said had been done three times for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt monument before everyone settled on Lawrence Halprin’s almost universally admired work of landscape architecture. But, interestingly, The Architect’s Newspaper, reports that the Eisenhower family was for the design just a few years ago. Clearly something changed.  

D.C. government departments and non-profits then weighed in with details about the design and public review process, or lent support to the Eisenhowers. The National Park Service said the environmental impact assessment was done like it’s always done. The GSA defended its program, which has been very successful in connecting big-name architects and landscape architects to a range of federal projects, improving design quality across the board. Using a request for qualifications (RFQ) instead of calling for an open design competition, GSA culled a list of 44 entries down to 7 architecture and landscape architecture firms that then provided design concepts. Four concepts then moved to the commission for review. William Guerin, Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Construction Programs, GSA, said that throughout the process there was “lots of public review and comment.”

Brig. Gen. Carl Reddell, executive director of the Eisenhower memorial commission, who recently pulled back from presenting the near-final concepts to the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), a Federal group that needs to approve the final designs, added that the memorial visioning process has been going on for 11 years now, and there has been 23 review meetings, which have all been open to the public.

A host of groups were opposed to the design and GSA-organized design process. Howard Segermark, National Civic Art Society, a group dedicated to promoting “classical and traditional art” and that sponsored its own public design competition for the site, said the “process has flown under the radar, with little public involvement.” He implied that close ties among some members of the commission and Frank Gehry led to that starchitect being selected. Segermark argued that simply weeding our potential competitors based on their qualifications meant cutting out any up-and-coming or undiscovered talent like Maya Lin, the architecture student who won the public Vietnam War memorial design competition. While the GSA has done good work elsewhere, “circumstances have conspired to create a real mess.”

The president of the National Monuments Foundation, Rodney Mims Cook, Jr., made a similar case, saying the design process should have been public, like it has been for all other presidential memorials. In this case, the “design excellence program exceeded its mandate.” Cook says the “opposition of the family must also be honored.” More criticisms came from Bruce Cole, Hudson Institute, who said the design is “incongruent.” “We need to go back to the drawing board and open a call to all designers.”

Whether you like the design or not, the controversy may raise questions about whether public design competitions with diverse juries are needed for national monuments. In this instance at least, the design process may have left a number of stakeholders feeling excluded and unheard, including a key constituency: the Eisenhower family. On the other side, some $16 million has already been spent over two years. Starting over again will mean throwing out all that design work. Plus, there are many who actually like the proposed design, including the members of the U.S. Fine Arts Commission, who voted unanimously in support of it.

A few Congressional representatives called for simply modifying Gehry’s design to ameliorate the concerns of the family. But Anne Eisenhower, another family member, said without the metal scrims, which she said Gehry doesn’t want to remove, the “design is gone,” meaning it would need to be totally redone. All this controversy makes us question whether a brilliant, young, up-and-coming landscape architect selected through a public design process could have succeeded in making everyone happy either.

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Image credit: Gehry Partners / Eisenhower Memorial Commission