Little noticed amid last month’s shutdown in Washington was Congress’s shutdown of funding for the Eisenhower Memorial Commission’s proposed modernist monument for the 34th president, designed by Frank Gehry and expected to cost $142 million, mostly in federal tax dollars.
True, the commission still has $22 million in its pocket, so it will continue to swim against the tide of public taste, critical opinion and the opposition of the Eisenhower family. But eventually it will die the death of a thousand congressional cuts. One of those may come from a House investigation into alleged irregularities in the hiring of Gehry — who just happened to have worked three earlier jobs hand in glove with Rocco Siciliano, Gehry’s fellow Californian, Beverly Hills attorney, former assistant labor secretary under Eisenhower and chairman of the Ike memorial commission.
The Gehry design could in theory arise from the dead, but President Obama has appointed Bruce Cole to the commission. He is a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and also a leading critic of the design. What does that say?
Keeping Gehry out of Washington would be a signal achievement. Architecture’s chief purpose, aside from housing humans and their activities, is to create a built environment conducive to a healthy public life. Beauty was a key factor in how this goal was achieved for millennia. Would anyone say that ditching beauty in favor of novelty has created more lovable or healthier cities for the world?
Read the rest of the column in The Providence Journal