NCAS Report on Frank Gehry’s Eisenhower Memorial
Note: Due to Subsequent Revisions in the Design (Including the Elimination of the Barefoot Boy Eisenhower), Some of the Below Is No Longer Accurate
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- The Eisenhower family opposes Frank Gehry’s design for the Memorial. The president’s grandson, the family’s sole representative on the Memorial Commission, has resigned from the Commission.
- The Memorial competition was secretive, exclusive, elitist, and undemocratic—if it was a true competition at all. Only 44 entries were solicited. This is hundreds fewer than the number of entries submitted in previous national memorial competitions, which were open to all.
- An unknown, unconnected designer could not have won, let alone even entered, the competition. It was thanks to America’s openness to talent that Eisenhower was able to rise to the presidency from a humble background. The Memorial competition should have been equally open.
- The Memorial’s only statue of Eisenhower depicts him as a life-size barefoot young boy, a shrinky-dink tikey Ikey. It is a travesty that cuts a great man down to size. Giving Eisenhower the boy treatment would be unthinkable were Eisenhower around to defend himself.
- The statue of Ike as a Kansas farmer-boy is sentimental kitsch. This Happy McMonument does not befit a statesman who defeated the Nazis and who preserved America’s peace and prosperity. Leadership is not child’s play.
- In 2003, Gehry refused to help design a replacement for the Twin Towers since he was not offered enough money. That alone makes Gehry unworthy of Eisenhower, who exemplified selfless public service.
- The void at the heart of the Memorial makes it a temple to nothingness. It is a hollow temple, not a hallowed one.
- The Memorial’s crooked-appearing “columns” and tangled “tapestries” do not befit Eisenhower’s upright virtue.
- The Memorial’s titanic “columns” tower overthe stone reliefs of Eisenhower and the puny Ike statute. The result is a Leviathan Memorial swallowing a small-fry Eisenhower. The behemoth commemorates Gehry’s ego, not Eisenhower’s greatness and humility.
- Eisenhower would be disgusted at the planning and design of his Memorial. As he lamented in 1962, “What has happened to our concept of beauty and decency and morality?”
In 1999, Congress authorized the creation of a national Memorial to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and created the Eisenhower Memorial Commission to plan and build it. In 2006, Congress authorized the Commission’s selected Memorial site on or adjacent to the National Mall.
The Commission hired an executive architect who, with GSA’s Public Buildings Service, oversaw a closed design competition that was secretive, undemocratic, elitist, and exclusionary. Only powerful, connected, famous, and trendy architects were solicited. Unknown, powerless, unfashionable, and traditional designers were entirely excluded. A present-day Maya Lin—who was an undergraduate student when she won the open, blindly reviewed competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial—could not even have entered the Eisenhower competition, let alone won.
The competition solicited only 44 firms for entries. This is hundreds fewer than the number of entries submitted in open competitions for prior national memorials. Compare the numbers for national memorial competitions in the last 50 years:
|Memorial Competition||Open or Closed||Number of Entries||Design Built|
|World War II||First Closed, Then Open||407||Yes|
In the 1990s, when the commission overseeing the National World War II Memorial competition held a nearly identical closed competition, there was widespread public outcry and the original competition was scrapped in favor of an open one.
Opposition to the Memorial has been slow to arise for two chief reasons: 1) The entire process has intentionally taken place below the radar with as little public knowledge as possible. 2) The process has delayed finalizing a Memorial design until the very last second. Indeed, despite the fact that the Commission aims to break ground in 2012, there is still no final design. It has been hard for critics to attack a moving target—the designer and the Commission have been able to claim, no matter how disingenuously, that this or that feature is not necessarily going to be in the final version.
Antithetical to blind review, the Eisenhower Memorial competition focused on the reputation and portfolio of the entrants, who were never required to submit an actual design proposal to be built. In contrast to prior national memorial competitions, the competition design entries have never been made available to the public. The American people’s input—or even awareness—has barely been sought.
We wonder whether the Commission’s Executive Architect, Daniel J. Feil, arranged the entire “competition” to obtain a pre-ordained outcome: the hiring of celebrity architect Frank Gehry. The winner of the “competition,” Gehry has been awarded a government contract for a project estimated to cost at least $119 million, at least 80% of which is to be funded by taxpayers. (However, the Commission has long intended to seek 100% federal funding.) This does not include the unusually expensive maintenance the Memorial will require in perpetuity. The construction cost alone is estimated to be $65 million to $75 million. The lower end of the range has been raised from the $55 million originally envisioned in the design competition.
Was the competition influenced by cronyism and conflicts of interest? The Commission’s chairman, Rocco C. Siciliano, has had a previous professional relationship with Gehry on at least three occasions. He mentioned Gehry repeatedly at Eisenhower Memorial Commission, long before the competition, even saying that Gehry had expressed interest in designing the Memorial. Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP (“SOM”), the firm hired to create the competition’s pre-design program, has worked intimately with Gehry on numerous occasions. The SOM pre-design program was led by the former Chief Architect of GSA, who is now a principal at one of the seven semi-finalists in the competition.
The competition and planning of the Memorial, including obtaining of the necessary authorization from the relevant government oversight agencies, has been occurring at an unusually rushed speed for a national memorial and in a suspiciously concealed manner. The Eisenhower family has complained that the government approval process has been “fast-tracked.” The intent appears to be to create “facts on the ground” as fast as possible, to ram the process through, no matter how heedless or undemocratic. The Commission aims to break ground in the fall of 2012 and to complete the construction by 2015. Executive Architect Feil said of this rushed schedule, “It’s aggressive, but doable.” The Commission’s Executive Director Carl W. Reddel also told Congress it was an “aggressive schedule.” He likewise told the National Capital Planning Commission, “we have moved faster perhaps than others would have anticipated.” Chairman Siciliano said “the Commission hoped to set a rapid pace for the project.” The Commission said it sought to “compress” even the GSA procurement process. Their excuse for this heedless rushing is that the Memorial needs to be built before too many more World War II veterans pass away.
The authorization process, overseen by the National Park Service (NPS), has not followed the letter or the intent of the most important preservation and zoning laws. NPS is failing in its appointed role as the guardian of the nation’s man-made heritage, in particular the 1791 L’Enfant Plan for Washington, D.C. (enacted by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson) and the National Mall perfected by the 1901-2 Senate Park Improvement Plan (commonly known as the “McMillan Plan”). Not only are NPS and other stakeholders not preserving what by law must be preserved, they are so confused that they have initiated processes to preserve what is unworthy of preservation, including the sterile Department of Education building. American conservationist values have been turned upside-down. The new de facto slogans include: UGLY IS BEAUTIFUL, GENERIC IS HISTORIC, EFFICIENCY IS GRANDEUR, INTERNATIONAL STYLE IS AMERICAN STYLE.
In its authorization process for the Memorial, NPS has gone so far as to slight the role of the Founding Fathers in the creation and design of the plan and core buildings of Washington, D.C. NPS has also ignored the Washington Monument when considering of the visual, cultural, and historic effects of the Memorial. It has also slighted the McMillan Plan that perfected the National Mall as we know it. NPS has even failed to acknowledge that the Memorial is on or adjacent to the Mall. This could all be due to the fact that NPS sought “an interactive parternship with [the] Commission rather than a more traditional, arms-length relationship.”
Frank Gehry was precisely the wrong architect for the job. His self-stated philosophy of design and his avant-garde prior works—which glorify chaos, danger, and pandemonium—are antithetical to everything that Eisenhower stood for. They are also antithetical to the orderly, harmonious style of the Monumental Core and the nation’s capital, not to mention the order and balance of the American form of government.
In one of the three designs Gehry and NPS submitted to oversight agencies in January 2011—the very design that is the basis for the current working design—Gehry arranged the Memorial’s benches to spell out “IXXI,” the Roman numerals for 9 and 11. Whether this reference to the 9/11 attacks was intentional or negligent, Gehry can no longer be trusted with the Memorial’s design.
Just two years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Gehry refused to help design a replacement for the Twin Towers explaining that insufficient payment was being offered. That fact alone makes him unworthy of Eisenhower, who exemplified selfless public service.
Gehry’s stated first-choice for the sculptor of the planned statue of Eisenhower as a young boy is Charles Ray, who is famous for his sculpture Oh! Charley, Charley, Charley, in which multiple fiberglass flesh-colored mannequin-like naked versions of himself engage in an orgy. Although Ray turned down the solicitation, Gehry has said that Ray is advising on the boy Eisenhower statue.
Gehry’s design for the Memorial dishonors and mocks Eisenhower, the National Mall, the nation’s capital, and the American people. Topsy-turvy in its proportions and symbolism, Gehry has created a Leviathan structure swallowing a small-fry Eisenhower. The Memorial’s only statuary depiction of Eisenhower—as a life-sized barefoot boy—is a travesty. It is sentimental kitsch that cuts a great man down to size: a shrink-dink tikey Ikey. The man who defeated the Nazis and preserved America’s peace and prosperity deserves better than this Happy McMonument. Leadership is not child’s play. Giving Eisenhower the boy treatment is a cheap shot that would be unthinkable were Eisenhower around to defend himself.
The Memorial’s ugly avant-garde style—its crooked-appearing “columns” and tangled “tapestries”—together with its colossal scope and scale represent a fundamental cleavage with the tradition of national presidential memorials. The impious, soulless design evinces nothing sacred or transcendent. Base and plebian, it suggests nothing noble or heroic. It is an anti-iconic anti-monument contrary to the spirit of Eisenhower and America.
The Eisenhower family is opposed to the design, which, for obvious reasons, has barely been shown to the public. On December 15, 2011, just after The Washington Post ran an article about the Eisenhower family’s increasingly vocal opposition to the Memorial, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission announced that David Eisenhower, who had been the family’s sole representative on the Commission, had resigned from it. In the 1960s, when the ugly officially chosen design for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial was opposed by the Roosevelt family, the memorial’s architects resigned their commission. If the Eisenhower Memorial is constructed, it would be the first national presidential memorial built without the support of the president’s family.
The Memorial design is totally inappropriate for its subject and context. It is also impermanent in its materials (which include a tangled web of industrial steel wire) and it is impermanence in its appearance, which is ephemeral and ghost-like. Since it is inappropriate and impermanent, the design violates the very Congressional law creating it. It also violates numerous other federal laws and regulations. In particular, the Memorial will have a permanent severe adverse effect on the National Mall and the L’Enfant and McMillan Plans such as to grievously violate their integrity. The Memorial will forever deface the view to the Capitol along Maryland Avenue SW, one of the city’s most iconic and historic sightlines.
 The Eisenhower Memorial Commission did not release any of their minutes until January 13, 2012. They still have not released their minutes from the crucial meetings circa 2008 at which they discussed and ran the design competition. Minutes available at http://www.eisenhowermemorial.org/thenews.php?n=236.
 “Chairman Siciliano next remarked that the Commission has to date not sought publicity and hopes to continue its work without fanfare.” Eisenhower Memorial Commission Minutes, Feb. 28, 2002.
 Eisenhower Memorial Commission Minutes, Mar. 25, 2010.
 https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=08d5b0f94e62957582048a8196bb4ea8&tab=core&_cview=1. Gehry’s early-2011 design submission to CFA and NCPC estimates the construction cost to be $72.6 million.
 Qtd. in Benjamin Forgey “Gehry on Eisenhower,” On Site Summer 2010: 10.
 Statement of Carl W. Reddel, Brig. Gen., USAF (Ret.) Executive Director, Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission to the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, Mar. 17, 2010 at 5, available at http://democrats.appropriations.house.gov/images/stories/pdf/Carl_Reddel.3.17.10.pdf.
 Eisenhower Memorial Commission Minutes, Sep. 27, 2005.
 Eisenhower Memorial Commission, 2012 Budget Justification at 3, available at http://www.eisenhowermemorial.org/20110211165156005.pdf.
 Eisenhower Memorial Commission Minutes, Feb. 28, 2002.
 Photos of the work—which is indecent, explicit, and at least morally obscene—can be found on the website of the Rubell Family Collection: http://www.rfc.museum/component/phocagallery/category/84-gallery-10.
 Chairman Siciliano “expressed the importance of family support to avoid a repetition of the problems encountered with the FDR Memorial.” Eisenhower Memorial Commission Minutes, Sep. 12, 2002.