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Fate of Gehry’s Eisenhower Memorial Design Stalled Until 2013

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Image: Gehry Partners, LLP.

Perhaps one of the few things that everyone can agree on about architecture is its ability to kick up incredibly prolonged and bipartisan discussions about its form, purpose, or value. Just when we thought Phoenix’s David and Gladys Wright House saga had come to a happy ending, it popped back out of its seams. Meanwhile, the preservation battle for Betrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago has become something of a prolix soap-opera story arc. And now, the latest news on the Frank Gehry Eisenhower Memorial debacle? Washington D.C. and the world will have to wait a little longer for the next chapter of this epic to play out. According to the Associated Press, yet another review of the controversially “modern” design has been left off the National Capital Planning Commission’s December agenda, stalling the fate of Gehry’s project until 2013.

“I would hate to stop the process and lose the momentum, especially since a lot of time, money, and effort has been expended on this memorial,” Hawaii senator Daniel Inouye, vice chairman of the federal Eisenhower Memorial Commission, wrote to the commission. “However, given the continued opposition with the Eisenhower family, I question whether we can ever resolve the differences … and whether it would be in our best interest to continue to move forward.” Inouye and others have been fielding letters of protest for about a year now, with vocal groups like the National Civic Art Society (NCAS) lambasting Gehry’s divergence from D.C.’s Classicism (their remonstration has most recently taken the form of dumping garbage on the site) and Eisenhower’s family expressing likeminded disapproval.

Others have questioned whether the memorial would be more effective as an open civic space rather than an architectural collage of historical pedagogy. Gehry’s most recently revised design preserves the use of symbolic metal tapestries and figurative sculpture to tell a detailed story of the former president, perhaps to the point of pursuing breadth over depth of information (as Vanity Fair critic Paul Goldberger might agree). One wonders whether the approach embodied in the recently completed FDR Four Freedoms Park — which thoughtfully pairs an digital archive on Franklin D. Roosevelt to accompany Louis Kahn’s minimalism — might be worth considering. But lest we forget, FDR Four Freedoms Park took over 70 years to be realized.

- Kelly Chan

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