Eisenhower Family Says No to Frank Gehry

Kelly Chan Kelly Chan

A model of the proposed Eisenhower Memorial designed by Frank Gehry.

Having assembled a league of extraordinary architects back in October, and having long been recognized as the only architect any non-architect has ever heard of, Frank Gehry is on the fast track to becoming invincible. For a while, the only thing that could possibly oppose his scribbled sketches from becoming built realities seemed to be levelheaded budget analyses. But alas, news from D.C. has alerted us to another force that dares say no to unbridled Gehryfication (note this newly coined 2012 term): former president Dwight D. Eisenhower’s family.

Just yesterday, the National Civic Art Society published a series of letters from the Eisenhower family to the National Capital Planning Commission calling for a halt to the authorization of Gehry’s Eisenhower Memorial design. The letters asked for an “indefinite delay in the approval process and an indefinite postponement of the ground breaking for the memorial until there is a thorough review of the design.”

A scanned and published copy of Anne Eisenhower’s letter to the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC)via.

As it currently stands, Gehry’s proposal envisions a memorial park framed by large metal tapestries depicting images of Abilene, Kansas, Ike’s hometown. According to the Huffington Post, a proposed statue of Eisenhower as a young boy is meant to recall the a memorable statement in which the president declared, “[T]he proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene.”

Despite Ike’s resounding hometown pride, his family is adamant that the architect has “missed the message here.” According to the Eisenhower family’s statement, Gehry’s design over-emphasizes Eisenhower’s backwater roots as a “barefoot boy from Kansas” rather than his accomplishments as a president who steered the country and stood up as an ethical role model during World War II and beyond. In an even more pointed architectural criticism, the family disagreed with how the memorial has its “back” to the Lyndon B. Johnson Department of Education, symbolically excluding association with Eisenhower’s contemporary.

The family brought up additional pragmatic concerns, including the sustainability of the metal tapestries and the costly upkeep of the interactive technology the memorial relies on to “tell the story.” Their final grievance accuses the commission for being too pushy with the timeline, demanding further discussions about significant changes to the concept, scale, and scope of the memorial. Designing memorials continues to be a sure fire way to start passionate debates, and Frank Gehry is no exception to the rule.

Rendering of the memorial, image courtesy the architects.