Ike memorial update


Latest Gehry design for Eisenhower memorial, with two “tapestries” cut. (usnews.com)

Frank Gehry has agreed to remove the two smaller of three giant screens, or as he calls them, tapestries from his design for a memorial on the Washington Mall to Dwight Eisenhower. It appears that the central sculptural plaza would remain the same. The National Capital Planning Commission, which rejected the Gehry design in April, had asked him to make changes, and this was the result. My source for the news is a story written by Sarah Anne Hughes at DCist.com, “Gehry’s revised Eisenhower memorial loses two controversial tapestries, but concerns remain.”

With the much larger surviving screen the design remains almost as odious as it was to start. In fact, here is what NCPC ex-officio member Rep. Darrell Issa told DCist: “[Gehry is] willing to give up the tapestries altogether and take his name off of it. I don’t believe that’s the best choice.  We lose something if we continue to say, ‘Change it, change it.’ I think the design is as close to as good as it’s going to get, unless we decide we never liked the design in the first place.”

The last words, regarding whether the design is liked, are key.

Two of four 80-foot posts that would have held up the two defenestrated tapestries would remain, which caused some back and forth on the committee. Hearing the remaining tapestry columns referred to as “vestigial” and compared to the last scene of The Planet of the Apes, Issa decorously stepped up to their defense, arguing that they resembled pylons upholding access ramps to the Interstate Highway System pushed through by Eisenhower as president. He added, to chuckles, that perhaps a plaque explaining this could be attached to the gargantuan pillars?

Funding for the Gehry proposal has essentially been zeroed out by Congress for two years running. There are many things wrong with the process that has led to this point, resulting in a sort of cottage industry of investigative committees nibbling at the Gehry proposal. The design competition was dubious and might have been rigged, the cost has skyrocketed, the expense has been borne by the public, the fundraising companies hired to raise donations for the memorial have cost the public more than the money that has been brought in, and the architect has exhibited a highly dismissive attitude toward the idea of public input into the design process.

Killing the memorial for any or all of those reasons, while a victory for the public weal, would not defeat the stated purpose of designing and building such a memorial, which is to overturn centuries of tradition in how the nation memorializes its great citizens. If Gehry decides to remove his name from the project, that would be a great signal that the public voice is reaching the ears of authority. But if the Gehry proposal is jettisoned lock, stock and barrel because of its appearance, the victory for beauty and civility in the Nation’s Capital would be undeniable.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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5 Responses to Ike memorial update

  1. Pingback: Issa beats wimp rap? | Architecture Here and There

  2. lux et veritas says:

    Well Mr. Burssat your facts appear as “defenestrated” as Gehry’s tapestries. Your past published opinions make clear your visceral contempt for any architecture not in the classical idiom. So, it is not surprising that you continue to cherry pick your facts to coincide with your deeply rooted conviction. In the interest of being fair and balanced I offer the following which I would hope remain posted. Of this I’m skeptical, prove me wrong.

    Stripped bare much of the overheated hyperbole and fatuous misrepresentations about the current design are from well funded groups lobbying to impose their view of proper architecture on the rest of us. They not only disdain Gehry as a person, but any monument that doesn’t have their requisite number of corinthian columns. One need only to look at the results of the closed memorial counter competition to see what’s in store for the rest of us. For example, how about a 197 foot tall massive column topped by a 20 foot statue of Ike with a viewing veranda built into his right foot. I for one would like the lucrative binocular concession since most WWII vets need bifocals to read the morning mail let alone gaze skyward to figure out who the heck’s up there. I like classic and modern architecture, what i don’t like is being told what I MUST like.

    As for the removal of the end tapestries, while i think they served an important purpose, their removal is a small price to pay to move this memorial forward. To scale them down would provide an opportunity for the antagonists to deride them as mere bill boards. In my view this is a compromise that does not diminish the grandeur of the final product.

    Finally, Representative Issa has my admiration and respect for having the wisdom and willingness to say enough already, 15 years is long enough to debate this worthwhile and noble endeavor. Many of us don’t have 40 remaining years to wait as was the case for the FDR memorial.

    In Ike’s own words on June 5th, 1944, D-day minus one, “OK, LET’S GO.”


    • I don’t actually think that Rep. Issa agrees with you. Also, give me one instance, in almost a quarter century of my writing about architecture, where I even seem to tell you what you must like. Just one.


      • lux et veritas says:

        Mr. Brussart first, let me express my sincere condolences over your recent departure from the Providence Newspaper. While we might disagree over the Eisenhower Memorial, I find much of what you’ve written to be informative and erudite. However the subject is the Memorial and in that regard I think you’ve done yourself and the public a disservice.

        Your blog piece used an article on the DCist’s website by Sarah Hughes as it’s sole source. It’s accurate as far as it goes but leaves the reader with the impression that Representative Issa wasn’t in favor of moving ahead. I’m sure you read other news reports on the NCPC meeting which support what I heard the man say. For example, the Washington Post reported on the meeting in print, to wit:

        “Issa — who said he met with Gehry in California over the Labor Day weekend — noted objections to the memorial’s design but said that the commission can’t provide” “another opportunity for it not to be perfect for someone.” And

        “We can’t go back to square one,” “said Issa, who dismissed calls by detractors to scrap the Gehry design and restart the process.” And

        “With the changes to the design as it is, I’m prepared to support it,” “said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a planning commission member who chairs the House Oversight Committee.”

        Rep. Issa knows full well, as do you and I, that any design for this memorial whether in the classic idiom or not will face intense debate and opposition. A 197 foot column, set in the middle of a pentagram topped by a 20 foot Ike not only doesn’t meet DC’s height restrictions but will face intense opposition. This despite the commendation by the Civic Art Society in their closed counter competition.

        I can understand why you didn’t provide this important information in your opinion piece but you can correct this oversight with a few keystrokes. You might also mention that Rep. Issa came to this conclusion after having mounted his own investigation of the memorial.

        As to whether you have told the public and me what type of architecture “we MUST like”, your past critiques of the Eisenhower Memorial, its management, funding and legality speak for themselves. Are you doing journalism or debating on the Memorial. If the former, by presenting only one side of an issue, the public is left to decide based on one sided information.

        In your past article entitled “THE GROUND GAME AGAINST MODERNISM” you provide your raison de etre:

        “(modern architecture) is by now too big to bring down without good luck, good aim and a lot of big rocks.” “A succession of crises — such as the Gehry fiasco — would serve to focus public attention on the failure of modern architecture.” I like both.


  3. 80 feet tall and two blocks long is not a human scale. It is the size you would want for people to see it driving by at 65 MPH on an Interstate, not for pedestrians walking by next to the National Mall.


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