News & Politics

The Battle Over the Eisenhower Memorial Continues

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

A rendering of an early version of the proposed memorial. Photograph courtesy of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission.

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
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
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
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