No surrender to Gehry Ike

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Sculpural grouping in proposed Ike memorial design. (Gehry Partners)

News that the Eisenhower family has been flipped and now supports the design of a proposed memorial to their patriarch by celebrity architect Frank Gehry is depressing, and maybe even predictable, but it’s too early for opponents of the monstrosity to throw in the towel.

Congress, which has a say in the matter, was not notified of the development. Leading members of the Appropriations Committee learned of it only when they got calls from the Washington Free Beacon for a story, “Eisenhower Family Reverses Opposition to Memorial Design.” Beacon reporter Blake Seitz wrote, “The proposed changes are notable in that they do not seem to address the criticisms leveled against the Gehry design by the Eisenhower family when it first announced its opposition in 2012.”

In particular, the steel tapestry (source of its “Iron Curtain” nickname) will remain but will be reconfigured to show the beaches of Normandy today. But the press release asserted that the changes will include increased focus on Eisenhower’s home state – a seeming contradiction, especially inasmuch as the Eisenhowers opposed the tapestry more than its subject, originally trees on a plain in Kansas, and argued that the memorial should pay less attention to his origins and more to his accomplishments.

Removing the tapestry – which with its mammoth blank columns reads more like the substructure of a highway overpass – would render the rest of the memorial much more acceptable to the public. But that will not happen because, to the elites involved in supporting Gehry, a victory for modernism is far more important than a memorial to a leader who is not quite the right cup of tea for most of them.

Anyway, just because the Eisenhower family has bought into a memorial likely to be perceived by future Americans as more about Frank than Ike does not mean that the public must do so. One of the chief arguments of the few supporters of the design was that the memorial should not be held hostage to the approval of Ike’s descendants. Whatever it may have been yesterday, the force of that argument is certainly no less persuasive today.

So those who believe the general should be honored by a memorial that citizens will love and respect should continue to oppose this travesty.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. 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. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and 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 invest your prose with even more style and clarity, 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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