Politico: Memorial Design Sparks Monumental Controversy
Memorial design sparks controversy
By: Puja Murgai
February 15, 2012 10:49 PM EST
How should Dwight D. Eisenhower be remembered? As the Supreme Allied Commander of World War II? As the president of the United States who fostered an era of economic prosperity and created the national highway system? Or as a barefoot boy?
Construction for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial hasn’t even begun, but a host of critics already have their knives sharpened.
The design for the memorial on the Mall, which will occupy a 4-acre site south of Independence Avenue, between 4th and 6th streets, includes columns, large tapestries of woven stainless steel and a statue of Eisenhower as a young boy, standing barefoot. It was created by architect Frank Gehry, most famous for his twisting, titanium-covered Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) joined a long list of opponents last week, appealing to the National Capital Planning Commission to reject the plans and to reopen the submission process for other designs. In a letter to NCPC Chairman Preston Bryant Jr., Wolf wrote, “the process is being rushed,” and that he agrees with Eisenhower’s granddaughter Susan in that depicting him as “a barefoot adolescent is inappropriate for a memorial on the National Mall and would not convey the importance of his achievements.”
Anne Eisenhower, another granddaughter, sent a letter to the NCPC on Jan. 9 on behalf of the entire family, including David Eisenhower, grandson of the former president, who resigned from the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission in December. The letter said, “It is far more important to adopt a memorial design that has the support of the Eisenhower family, Congress and the American people than it is to rush forward with a design and concept that are flawed.”
The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts put its seal of approval on the general proposal and overall design submitted by the National Park Service on behalf of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, but the NCPC must approve the proposed plan.
Other memorials on the Mall have stirred controversy in the past. Critics objected to the National World War II Memorial’s location for obstructing an otherwise unbroken view between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. And designers of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial opted to build the statue with a cloak covering the wheelchair but with casters that are visible only from behind. Many wanted his disability to be in plain view as a symbol of what they believed to be a source of his strength. There also was controversy surrounding a quote on the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial that was paraphrased from his actual words. The Park Service said last week it would be making a correction to include the full quote.
Gehry was chosen through a competition held by the General Services Administration Design Excellence Program.
The National Civic Art Society and the Institute of Classical Art and Architecture held a separate competition last June for a design concept for the memorial. The winning plan featured an arch with two columns, depictions of Eisenhower as a general and president and two fountains. But NCPC said: “We are aware of the competition but are not part of it.”
In a letter to the editor of The New York Times, NCAS President Justin Shubow reiterated the group’s opposition to both the design concept and “the undemocratic process that selected the celebrity architect.”
The latest to speak out against the Eisenhower memorial design is architect Leon Krier, who on Tuesday published a 1,500-word review in Metropolis Magazine of Gehry’s design concept. Both Krier and Gehry teach at the Yale School of Architecture. Gehry, Krier wrote, is a “great but greatly confused artist, who was appointed by a commission who shares his intellectual confusion and distaste of a classical Washington, D.C.”
Gehry has not said a word publicly in response to any of the critics. [bold emphasis added]