National Civic Art Society Announces Statement On the Revised Eisenhower Memorial Design

Revised Eisenhower Memorial Design

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National Civic Art Society Statement On the Revised Eisenhower Memorial Design

On May 15th, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission unveiled Frank Gehry’s revised Eisenhower Memorial design. Unfortunately, members of the public were not allowed to speak at the meeting, further confirming the undemocratic nature of this memorial design process. Mr. Gehry’s absence was also disappointing, particularly when Eisenhower Memorial Commission Executive Architect Daniel Feil had stated at the time of Gehry’s selection in 2009 that his design fees, paid by the U.S. taxpayer, would be $19 million.

The dysfunctional elements of the proposed design, as identified by the Eisenhower family and the public, remain unchanged. The lack of compelling symbolism or sense of permanence conveyed by the design, along with the gargantuan 80-foot-tall cylinders and the experimental tangled chain-link screens they support, remain.  Refinements to the design modifying the statue of Eisenhower from “boy” to “young cadet” and changing bas reliefs to free-standing sculpture are inconsequential. The addition of stacked block megaliths also adds to the pervasive disorder of the scheme.

Just as importantly, no amount of design revisions can change the fact that the Mr. Gehry was selected through a de facto closed competition run through the GSA Design Excellence Program. The GSA Design Excellence program sought qualifications, not designs, from a small group of architects. At a public event in 2011 at Georgetown University, the creator of the GSA Design Excellence Program, Edward Feiner, stated that the GSA Design Excellence Program “was not the one I would have used” to select a designer for the Eisenhower Memorial. When a government commission previously attempted to use the GSA Design Excellence Program to select a designer for the World War II Memorial, there was broad public outcry from those who wished to submit their own designs for a fair and open competition. That government commission went back to the drawing board and held an open competition.

Paul Sprereigen, FAIA, an expert on design competition guidelines who helped craft the competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and who formerly directed design competitions for the American Institute of Architects, has also spoken out. In a letter to the Washington Post he asked, “Why weren’t all American designers given the opportunity to submit proposals for the Eisenhower memorial? The method for doing that is a very well-organized and well-managed open-design competition… The design process for the Eisenhower memorial should have been open to all. It still can be, if the Gehry design is rejected.”

The National Civic Art Society calls for a new, open, democratic, and transparent competition, following precedents set by previous national memorial competitions, which would result in a more sustainable, meaningful and beautiful Eisenhower Memorial. Such a memorial would not need to cost the estimated $120 million that the planning and execution of the Eisenhower Memorial, as presently designed, would cost American taxpayers, with unknown annual upkeep costs that would be an additional burden on the American people. A new, open, democratic, and transparent memorial competition would be an opportunity to inspire creativity and ingenuity among American architects, artists, and designers, while also spurring further study of and reflection on President Eisenhower’s life.

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