Earlier this week at a meeting given by the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, Frank Gehry unveiled a revamped design for the controversial Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial for the Mall at the base of Capitol Hill, Washington D.C. This redesign responds to strong family objections in which Gehry’s vision had been criticized for largely misrepresenting the strength and achievements of the former Commander in Chief (check out our previous coverage of the controversial memorial and its heated meeting on March 20 here). After being selected to design the memorial in 2010 by the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, Gehry looked to highlight the President’s great achievements as a source of inspiration to children, to “give them courage to pursue their dreams and to remind them that this great man started out just like them.”
The original design featured an 80-foot high colonnade from which large metal tapestries hang, and a statue depicting Eisenhower as a youth gazing upon his future accomplishments. To Gehry, the memorial celebrated a hero who was deeply proud of his Kansas roots and an icon children could identify with; to Eisenhower’s surviving family members, particularly granddaughters Susan and Anne Eisenhower, the design diminished the President’s accomplishments by depicting Ike as a “dreamy boy”.
More about the new design after the break.
Upon hearing the family’s disapproving remarks, Gehry has expressed his willinging to work with the family members and consider new design options. ”My detractors say that I have missed the point, and that I am trying to diminish the stature of this great man. I assure you that my only intent is to celebrate and honor this world hero and visionary leader who did so much for our country and the world,” explained Gehry.
And, so, Gehry’s new design includes a series of statues measuring 9 feet tall that will replace the large images in stone reliefs at the center of the park. These statues depict Eisenhower with the 101st Airborne Division of soldiers before the D-Day invasion of Normandy, and with his hand on a globe, inspired by a Yousuf Karsh photograph titled “The Elder Statesman.”
Gehry, who was not present for the meeting, articulated his thoughts in writing. ”After careful consideration, I believe that the sculptures bring the story to life in a more powerful and accessible way than the bas reliefs were able to do,” Gehry wrote. ”I have refined the design to incorporate (feedback) which I believe helps tell the story of Eisenhower with more dignity and more power…the statues bring the (Eisenhower) story to life in a more powerful and accessible way than the bas reliefs were able to do.”
While Gehry has added the statues, the architect has also stood by gestures made in the original design, namely the inclusion of a life-size sculpture of Eisenhower as a youth. This statue remains at the center of the memorial, gazing upon his future accomplishments, a move Gehry said will inspire the thousands of children who will visit the site. Gehry added, ”I still believe that the sculpture of Eisenhower as a young man looking out on his future accomplishments is a powerful image.”
And, the metal tapestries also remain. ”Eisenhower was so proud to grow up in Kansas — leaving out this imagery would mean omitting an important part of his story,” Gehry wrote. The images depicted on the tapestries will include photographs of the Kansas landscape.
Back when the original design had been unveiled, Gehry’s conceptual basis sparked a major public controversy. The family expressed very vocal concerns over the design, while some groups created websites protesting the design, and others demanded to see a thorough paper trail leading to the selection of Gehry as the memorial winner (Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, requested “a detailed description of the process leading to acceptance of the Frank Gehry submission, including a breakdown of any and all votes taken pertaining to any submission”).
Although the opinions of close family members should be taken into consideration – and Gehry has proved his dedication to appeasing their concerns – some wonder what the effects of public opinion will do to diminishing the strength of the memorial design. Witold Rybczynski, a member of the United States Commission of Fine Arts, explained in his NYT piece I Like Ike (and His Memorial), “Both the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial were the objects of criticism when they were proposed: why was Lincoln portrayed as a tired rather than a triumphant leader; why was Jefferson housed in a Roman temple?…Presidential memorials take a long time to come to fruition — the Lincoln Memorial took more than 12 years — and the design team will continue refining its design for the Eisenhower memorial. Mr. Gehry, our finest living architect, has already shown himself willing to listen to critical suggestions.But in this case, too many cooks will definitely spoil the broth. Compromise and consensus are important when devising legislation, but they are a poor recipe for creating a memorial.”
The final approval of the memorial’s design relies on a vote by the National Capital Planning Commission and approval by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which, thus far, has only given conceptual approval. While the Commission members expressed support for Gehry’s changes, we will hear their final decision at the Commission’s July meeting.