The Commission of Fine Arts on Thursday approved the concept of the revised Frank Gehry design for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial but asked its creators to return with more details about the plan’s landscaping, statuary, pathways and lighting.
Members of the panel — one of two government agencies that must approve the memorial plan before construction can begin — described the edited version of Gehry’s design as a “stronger project” and a “substantial improvement” over the previous one, which the CFA had already accepted.
The new design removes two smaller stainless steel tapestries on the east and west sides of the four-acre site along Independence Avenue to improve the views of the Capitol from Maryland Avenue and to strengthen the park’s relationship with the surrounding buildings.
The longer tapestry — with images of Kansas farmland — continues to define the site’s southern perimeter. The revision also retains two free-standing columns (previously, four columns supported the two tapestries) at the northern corners.
Craig Webb of Gehry Partners likened the plan’s “layering of spaces” to the Lincoln Memorial, which the designers used as a guide to move visitors from busy street-scape to contemplative memorial. At the park’s center will be statuary honoring Ike’s service as World War II general and as the nation’s 34th president. There’s also a statue of Eisenhower as a youth.
“The removal of the side panels is brilliant,” CFA member Alex Krieger said. “The two columns are important, although I still have questions about their size and material. They do actually help define the perimeters of the park.”
But Commissioner Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk disagreed, saying the design “can live without the two individual columns, which are objects rather than space enclosures.”
Gehry’s modernist approach — as seen in the original and this smaller version — has been widely criticized since it was introduced more than three years ago. Eisenhower’s granddaughters weighed in again last month in a letter to the memorial commission that said the revised design “does not address the major problems” they and others have.
The panel heard from four members of the public who also were critical of new version, which received preliminary approval from the National Capital Planning Commission earlier this month by a vote of 10 to 1. The commission had denied approval of the original plan in April.
Webb and members of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission pledged to return to the CFA as early as next month to present a detailed description of the design’s statues, quotations, pathways and tree selection.
Following the vote, Eisenhower Memorial Commission Chairman Rocco Siciliano issued a statement celebrating Gehry’s ability to respond to “the many stakeholders in this process while still maintaining the power and integrity of his design.”