The Battle Over the Eisenhower Memorial Continues

The Eisenhower family has rejected Frank Gehry's latest design proposal for the memorial near the Mall.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

The family of Dwight D. Eisenhower today rejected design modifications architect Frank Gehry proposed for the controversial memorial that will honor the former president and World War II commander. Susan Eisenhower, his granddaughter, said on her website that the family was grateful to Gehry and his company for their efforts but that they “do not support” the latest design and urge “more time to break the impasse in this process.”

If and when it is built, the memorial will be near the Mall, adjacent to the LBJ Department of Education.

This impasse has been an issue ever since Gehry’s design was first unveiled by the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. Though it took a little time initially for the family to unify, they have over the past several months collectively rejected elements that pertain to sustainability, affordability, and simplicity. In January they sent a letter of protest to the National Capital Planning Commission. The position they announced today, while on friendly terms, is still intransigent about certain elements.

“From our perspective, many of the changes that Gehry Partners made to the design concept are positive and welcomed,” the family statement says. “The scope and scale of the metal scrims, however, remain controversial and divisive.”

Over the past months the decision process was put on hold while Gehry Partners drafted the redesigns and the Eisenhower family lobbied Congress. It has been a polite, if polarized, controversy. In an interview with The Washingtonian in January, Susan Eisenhower said, “The problem with this [Gehry] design is it’s like a theme park. If you want to define appropriateness, just put him in a more traditional setting, in a more modest and sustainable way.”

We have submitted requests for reaction from Gehry and from Daniel Feil, the executive architect for the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. We will update as warranted.

Here’s the text of the Eisenhower family statement:

Much has been written about the fact that the Eisenhower Memorial will be the first presidential memorial of the 21st century. The ones built in this century will come with their own requirements and characteristics. They will be different from those of earlier times—including the civic monuments of the 1980s, ’90s, even the ones envisioned as this century began.

The shift, we believe, came last summer. The US and global debt crisis ushered in a new era. Today, we must learn again to celebrate things that are simple, sustainable, and affordable. These values were dominant after World War II, as the country, under Dwight Eisenhower’s leadership, built a modern industrial infrastructure and emerged as a global superpower and the leader of the free world. Simple, sustainable and affordable were notions that were imbedded in Eisenhower’s thinking. These themes run throughout his many speeches, including his Farewell Address. Given the economic downturn, we are now called upon to reconnect with these timeless values.

From our perspective, many of the changes that Gehry Partners made to the design concept are positive and welcomed. The scope and scale of the metal scrims, however, remain controversial and divisive. Not only are they the most expensive element of the Gehry design, they are also the most vulnerable to urban conditions, as well as wildlife incursions and ongoing, yet unpredictable, life-cycle costs. This one-of-a-kind experimental technology, which serves as the memorial’s “backdrop,” is impractical and unnecessary for the conceptual narrative. For those reasons, we do not support a design that utilizes them.

We are thankful to all the individuals who have contacted us with their views and suggestions. This will be their memorial—America’s gift to future generations. That’s why it must be built as part of a transparent public effort that enjoys widespread consensual approval. Until that is accomplished we will argue for more time to break the impasse in this process.

—The Eisenhower Family, May 30, 2012