Designers of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial appeared before the Commission of Fine Arts Thursday in the first of four presentations to hammer out details of lighting, landscaping and the selection of quotations in the hopes of securing final approval for its controversial Frank Gehry design.
In addition, the memorial commission has appealed to Congress for $68.2 million in next year’s budget to allow construction of the $140 million project to begin next year.
Although authorized by Congress in 1999, the memorial faced major delays and backlash over its modern Gehry design featuring stainless steel tapestries attached to 80-foot columns.
Last fall, some four years after the design was first unveiled, the memorial commission received preliminary approval from both the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission, the government agencies that must sign off on the memorial before construction can begin.
The revised design removes two smaller stainless steel tapestries on the east and west sides of the four-acre lot along Independence Avenue. The latest version widens the views of the Capitol along Maryland Avenue, while maintaining two free-standing columns on its northern corners.
The memorial’s interior section includes two bronze sculptural elements, one depicting General Eisenhower and the other the nation’s 34th President. A statue of Eisenhower as a young man is also featured.
As the design team digs into details of LED lighting, arrangement and choice of trees and selections of quotations, the commission also has to raise money to bring the design to reality. By law, memorials must have all the costs of construction, plus 10 percent, on hand before building permits are issued.
Congress has appropriated $46.4 million to the project, including almost $32 million for construction in 2012. In its FY16 budget request, the commission claims an appropriation of $68.2 million (and $2 million for operations) will be enough for construction to begin.
The commission plans to supplement federal dollars with gifts from private donors. According to its budget request, a fundraising firm will solicit gifts from supporters of Eisenhower, including international corporations and governments, as well as fans of Gehry.
While the project seems to have gained momentum, a final proposal is still a long way off. The lighting presentation delivered by architect Craig Webb was not detailed enough for several commissioners, who wanted to see examples of ground lights and the location of poles that would be used to illuminate the sculptures. Members of the CFA asked pointed questions about the presentation of quotations selected from three of Eisenhower’s most important speeches.
Webb said he and his team would return in March to discuss landscaping, followed by a presentation on the sculptural elements in April and the tapestries in May. The memorial commission hopes to gain final approval from the CFA in the summer. Construction is estimated to take 30 months, pushing a formal dedication to 2018.