“Children are not impressed by children,” she wrote. “They want to be Super Heroes.” But she also said, “My family has repeatedly expressed its desire to see something simple and in keeping with Eisenhower’s character and values,” adding that her family had argued for a statue on the grounds of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Others have attacked the process whereby the commission chose Gehry as designer, arguing it wasn’t open, transparent or democratic. Supporters of the memorial, including Reddell, and representatives from the U.S. General Services Administration (which advised and assisted the commission with design selection) and the National Park Service (which will be the memorial’s steward) stoutly defended the selection process, which followed long-standing precedents used by the GSA for large federal projects.
The commission began by inviting architecture firms first to submit their qualifications, then selected seven firms (among 44 that responded) to participate in interviews. A shortlist of four firms was then chosen to submit actual proposals.
Architects who have worked with the process argue that while it doesn’t create a pool of potentially hundreds of designs, it helps ensure that the firms that advance to the final stage of the competition are competent to realize their plans on budget, on time, and within the internecine regulatory and political process that bedevils all major projects in the monumental core of Washington, D.C.
The design process has reached the almost inevitable “kitchen sink” stage of public discussion. Bruce Cole called it “an amusement park,” taking issue with its use of interactive features to teach visitors about Eisenhower’s legacy. Susan Eisenhower worried about a “symbolic affront” to the Lyndon Johnson Department of Education Building to the south of the memorial site, which would be substantially obscured by the tapestries. The written testimony of witness Rodney Mims Cook Jr. touted his own design for an Eisenhower Memorial that would feature a 178-foot traditional column, eight feet taller than a column dedicated to Lord Nelson in London because “hierarchy calls for a taller column for the General.”
Gehry, the most significant architect working in the United States in the past half-century, was unable to attend the hearing but submitted a letter in which he disputed some of the major concerns about the design, including the longevity and cost of maintaining the tapestries. He said he welcomed further dialogue with the Eisenhower family and was open to changes.
“If the [commission] and the family conclude that the sculpture of young Eisenhower is an inappropriate way to honor him,” Gehry wrote, “then I will be open to exploring other options with them.”