Planning commission goes to war with Gehry Partners over Eisenhower Memorial design


The National Capital Planning Commission voted 7 to 3 to disapprove the design and building plans for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial. The commission accepted the NCPC executive director’s recommendation that Gehry Partners’ design be amended because of the proposed size, scale and configuration of the large columns and tapestries on the four-acre site in Southwest Washington. (Gehry Partners/AP)
April 3

The National Capital Planning Commission voted 7 to 3 to disapprove the design and building plans for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial. The commission accepted the NCPC executive director’s recommendation that Gehry Partners ’ design be amended because of the proposed size, scale and configuration of the large columns and tapestries on the four-acre site in Southwest Washington.

The design’s massive tapestries are a focal point of the memorial and have caused controversy among members of Congress, Eisenhower family members and advocacy groups. Architect Frank Gehry’s metal tapestries are meant to depict the Kansas landscape of Ike’s boyhood home. Statues of Eisenhower as president and World War II general would stand at the park’s center.

The director’s recommendation said the design did not adhere to design principles put forth by the commission, obstructing views of the Capitol along Maryland Avenue.

“As currently scaled — the 80-foot-high, 10-foot-diameter columns — the view toward the Capitol is considerably diminished,” said Shane Dettman, senior urban planner for the NCPC.

In response, John Bowers of Gehry Partners said “the design principles are subjective and ambiguous.”

Craig Webb of Gehry Partners said: “When we looked at the height and scale of the columns, we modified the columns and decreased size.

“The columns are the minimum size as required to support the tapestries.”

The approval process for the $110 million project has been politically fraught, with some advocacy groups and Eisenhower family members arguing that the design diminishes the accomplishments of a general and president.

Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), who spoke against the memorial design, recommended that the design be thrown out and that a new “free and open competition” supported by Eisenhower family members take place.

Gen. P.X. Kelley, chairman of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission’s advisory board, argued in support of the design, saying that time is of the essence.

“The generation of Dwight D. Eisenhower is slowly fading away,” Kelley said.

Roughly two dozen members of the public offered their thoughts in addition to members of the commissions and members of Congress.

Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.), who voted against the design, noted that consensus must be reached soon for pragmatic reasons.

“We are entering a tough time in Congress to bring future funds,” Issa said. “The time for endless debate has to be over. The commission and [Gehry Partners] must find common ground.”

The committee approved an amendment that requests a review of design modifications every two months.

The committee will obtain a status update on the design in June, provided that Gehry Partners complies with the panel’s request.

An earlier version of this story had an incorrect height for the tapestries.

Katherine Boyle reports on arts, museums and culture for the Style section.
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