Frank Gehry Eisenhower Memorial Plan: Architect Answers His Critics
WASHINGTON -- Renowned architect Frank Gehry explained his ambitious design for a future Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial to architecture colleagues Tuesday night, saying criticism of the sweeping scale of his project honoring the 34th president has mostly been fair.
Famous for his striking structures with undulating exteriors, Gehry said his design is evolving for his first project in Washington. He explained his concept to the editor of Architectural Record and others at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
The design draws on Eisenhower's homecoming speech after World War II when the war hero spoke of a barefoot boy from Kansas who went on to fame in Europe. The design would include large metal tapestries depicting trees, grain silos and "Ike's" home in Kansas. Those tapestries and huge columns designed to uphold them have drawn criticism from some quarters.
"The people are asking good questions," Gehry said of his concept. He added that the project is undergoing a complex but "very intelligent" approval process required for national memorials.
The memorial also would include a landscaped park with other features marking Eisenhower's presidency and war years. It would be built just off the National Mall among buildings linked to Eisenhower's legacy, including the National Air and Space Museum and the U.S. Education Department.
Organizers hope to complete the memorial in 2015 at a cost of $90 million to $110 million.
Susan Eisenhower, the president's granddaughter, recently issued a statement to The Washington Post on behalf of her family, saying they have concerns about the "concept for the memorial, as well as the scope and scale." It did not note any specific objections.
"We feel that now is the time to get these elements right – before any final design approvals are given and before any ground is broken," the statement read.
Eisenhower's grandchildren have requested a meeting with Gehry and officials from the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. David Eisenhower, the president's grandson, is a member of the commission.
"We're clearly going to make them happy," Gehry told The Associated Press after his remarks Tuesday night.
The grandchildren may have a certain image of their grandfather that they want to share, he said.
Dan Feil, executive architect for the project, said the memorial group is arranging a meeting with the family
"They need to be involved, and we're trying to do that," Feil said, adding that it won't necessarily affect the memorial's timeline.
The 80-foot-tall columns measuring 11 feet in diameter that would hold up the memorial's tapestries have been the main point of contention. One member of the National Capital Planning Commission called them "gargantuan."
Gehry's selection of Kansas imagery for the tapestries also has been questioned.
Architect John Hart, who represents Maryland on the commission, has said earlier that he didn't see enough of Eisenhower in the design. "I'm not seeing the celebration of the man ... in the depiction of a rural landscape," he said.
Gehry said Tuesday evening that his idea was to build a tapestry that tells a story as tapestries have been used in generations past. The architect said he traveled as far away as Japan to learn how to accomplish that. "And I didn't have a plan B," Gehry told his audience.
His goal, he said, is to capture the story of "Ike."
"He was a very modest guy – but tough," Gehry said. "And he did great things for this country. I didn't know it when he was president."
During the design competition for the memorial, Gehry began reading everything Eisenhower, and "I really got to know the guy," he said.
After leading the Allied forces in Europe in World War II, Eisenhower went back to Abilene, Kan., a place that he loved and that formed his character, Gehry added.
"He didn't beat his chest and say `I won the war,'" Gehry noted.
The design will evolve before a Dec. 1 meeting of the commission when organizers plan to seek preliminary approval of Gehry's design.
Gehry said he has already made changes from criticism he's heard. But he disagrees with those who believe he should focus more on war because Eisenhower would want it to be modest, not "overblown," Gehry said.
Another federal panel, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, has commented favorably on Gehry's design and supported the concept.
The memorial would follow a monument to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which on Sunday became the first memorial honoring a black leader to be dedicated on the National Mall. The Eisenhower Memorial would be the first to a president since the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial opened in 1997.