After several beleaguered months of protestations, Frank Gehry's plans for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C. will be preserved and allowed to proceed to further design and construction stages. The high-profile project became entangled in a political debate that pitted the Eisenhower family against the memorial commission and the world's foremost celebrity architect. Several classicist architects and associations, including Leon Krier and the National Civic Art Society, threw their support behind the Eisenhower heirs, who considered Gehry's memorial inappropriate and an affront to the traditional neo-Hellenic temples which comprise the most visible (and loved) memorial architecture which dots the nation's capital.
In its present iteration, Gehry's $112 million memorial will feature parks and sycamore groves framed 80-foot tall columns supporting metal-woven tapestries depicting scenes of Eisenhower's boyhood in Abilene, Kansas. The tapestries could easily be perceived as crass billboards, the family argued, emblazoned with content that ignored Eisenhower's military and presidential achievements. Accepting these and other points of critique, Gehry had revised his scheme several times, rearranging the site plan to open up views to the Capitol Building--a point of contention among the engaged parties who feared that such panoramas would be obscured by the towering columns.Yet, little more of the proposal was actually changed, with its form and proportions virtually left intact against the family's stated objections, which reached their most incendiary in tone at a March 20 congressional hearing when Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the late president, denounced Gehry's memorial as following in the aesthetic lineage of not only "Marx, Engels and Lenin," but also Ho Chi Minh and even Nazi death camps.
Frank Gehry's design for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, facing east down Independence Avenue; Photo: Eisenhower Memorial Commission, via
Despite the uproar, however, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission remained firmly allied with Gehry, whose design they praised as "exciting, creative and inspiring". In a statement announcing the decision to move forward with the memorial plans, the board reasserted that the Gehry design "captures the life and the spirit, and commemorates the historic achievements, of Dwight Eisenhower."