“Tear Down This Wall!”

Latest version of Gehry memorial for Eisenhower, with two small

Latest version of Frank Gehry’s design for a proposed memorial to Dwight Eisenhower, with two smaller “tapestries” removed. (Gehry Partners)

Granted, and thankfully, “this wall” has not been built yet, but the design by Frank Gehry for a proposed memorial to Dwight Eisenhower should be scrapped. A new competition should be held. Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts recently took over as chairman of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, so he’s in a good position to bring about a new competition.

Sam Roche, of Right By Ike, a group that opposes the Gehry design, has written a piece making that point for the Kansas City Star. “Sen. Pat Roberts can save the Eisenhower Memorial project in Washington,” traces how Gehry has produced a divisive design for a man whose leadership style exalted consensus, how its bloated cost of $144 million flies in the face of Ike’s “careful stewardship of the public purse,” and how Gehry’s selection, even if not downright corrupt, violated the normal open competitive process for public memorials of this sort. Roche concludes:

The commission’s radical departure from proven public process and fiscal restraint has made the Eisenhower Memorial a symbol of the bureaucratic waste and abuse of power its subject railed against. Organizers of the next national memorial in Washington — to World War I — just announced it will be designed through the usual public competition, open to anyone.

President Eisenhower deserves no less. Public competitions are standard practice because they build consensus through public participation. Already that sounds like a more fitting tribute to Dwight Eisenhower.

As things stand, the design is more about Gehry than about Ike. And Gehry has vowed to disown the project if his signature “tapestries” – huge metal scrims that resemble an old Gehry design for a parking garage – are removed. That’s how he reacted when Rep. Darrell Issa has called for their removal as a potential compromise. Congress has put a halt to funding for the memorial, and seems in no mood to reopen the spigot.

The Eisenhower family and many others have called for a new, open competition. Let’s hope that Senator Roberts sees the wisdom of such a course. Here is “A Gehryesque critique” on AIA editor Ned Cramer’s editorial, last October.

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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2 Responses to “Tear Down This Wall!”

  1. Jim Kelley says:

    I like Ike. I’ve both liked and disliked our former presidents. I respect and honor the sentiments of all the recently built and planned memorials. However, I wonder two things:
    1. Are we entering a slippery slope of massive ever increasing monument building?
    2. If so, perhaps this is an indication of less optimism and vision for the future but; instead, is a sign of a weary country focussing on past glories and past and present sacrafices. Does the architectural style mitigate this?


    • I don’t think there’s any doubt that even if you oppose further memorializations on the mall, if they are to come, pretty ones will be less onerous than ugly ones – unless you consider ugliness an effective strategy for deterring any still further ones. I don’t think it’s worth the price myself, and of dubious utility in holding them off.


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