Eisenhower Memorial Commission considers whether to move forward with Frank Gehry's design

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WASHINGTON — A federal commission planning a memorial near the National Mall honoring the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower considered whether to move forward Wednesday with a famed architect's design after years of controversy surrounding the project.

Earlier this month, architect Frank Gehry's team presented a revised design for a proposed memorial park following objections from critics and Eisenhower's family who said the earlier design was too big and extravagant.

The Eisenhower Memorial Commission met Wednesday for the first time in more than a year to consider Gehry's changes or whether to move the 15-year-old project in a different direction.

No votes were taken, however, because the commission lacked a quorum. Seven lawmakers did not attend the meeting on Capitol Hill, including Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts and Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, who have championed the project in the past. Instead the panel will hold an electronic vote by Sept. 24 on how to proceed.

In the revised design, Gehry's Los Angeles-based team eliminated two large, metal tapestries on the sides of the memorial park, along with some large columns. One long, stainless steel tapestry would remain as a backdrop, depicting the Kansas landscape of Ike's boyhood home. The park would also include statues of Eisenhower as president and World War II general and inscriptions from some famous speeches.

Gehry has proposed major changes seeking approval for the design from a federal agency that oversees planning for the nation's capital on Oct. 2, said Brig. Gen. Carl Reddel, the commission's executive director

"We think there is an opportunity for resolution as we go forward," Dan Feil, the commission's executive architect, told commissioners.

But in a letter to the commission this week, Eisenhower's family said the revised design still doesn't address their concerns. They said the project should pursue a simpler design without any tapestries or columns — or be completely redesigned.

"Our family is ready to help move this memorial to completion under conditions that can re-energize this effort," wrote the 34th president's granddaughters, Anne Eisenhower and Susan Eisenhower.

As an alternative, the Eisenhower commission briefly discussed building only the "core of the Gehry design without any tapestries or columns," as suggested by the family and California Rep. Darrell Issa, who has weighed in on the project. In that case, Gehry would likely withdraw from the project if his trademark tapestries are eliminated.

With little discussion and most members absent, it was not clear how many commissioners still support Gehry's design.

Feil, the project architect, presented both alternatives to the commission, which includes Democratic and Republican lawmakers and presidential appointees.

If Gehry were to withdraw and his design is scrapped, Feil said, starting over with a new design team would take approximately three years.

No one from Gehry's firm spoke at Wednesday's meeting.

The Eisenhower memorial would be Gehry's first major project in Washington. His designs include the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, among others.

Commissioner Bruce Cole, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities who opposes Gehry's design, proposed that the commission pause until Nov. 1 to contemplate how to move forward.

"Let's just take a little bit more time and get this right for Ike's sake," he said.

Project estimates have put the memorial's total cost at $142 million. Congress decided not to approve any additional funding this year until the design dispute is resolved.


Eisenhower Memorial Commission: http://eisenhowermemorial.gov


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