The commission handling the design and construction of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial on Wednesday largely ignored recent criticism of the memorial design, choosing instead to unanimously approve the plan despite concerns over cost and concept.
Speaking before a Russell Senate Office Building room crowded with supporters and design samples, memorial commission chairman Rocco Siciliano defended his board's actions as well as the design of renowned contemporary architect Frank Gehry.
"No intent was made here to railroad or walk over outside opinions, especially the family's," Mr. Siciliano said, referencing the mounting criticism from Eisenhower's relatives and the House committee tasked with overseeing the memorial. "The family deserves to be heard. The family does not deserve to be obeyed."
Mr. Gehry unveiled modest design changes to the memorial, including a bas relief — a type of sculpture that is built into a wall of stone — along with freestanding figures on one block of the memorial. He also changed the statue of a childlike Eisenhower to a teenage version sitting casually along the memorial's edge, looking out to his future accomplishments depicted in the park.
"It's still very similar to the competition model in principle," Mr. Gehry said.
Since it was approved by President Clinton in 1999, the proposed Eisenhower memorial has invited both critique and commendations.
During Wednesday's hearing, Rep. Michael K. Simpson, Idaho Republican, read a letter from Susan and Anne Eisenhower, granddaughters of the World War II general and 34th president, which stated that the family "will not support the current Gehry design" and urged a new design competition.
The concern, Mr. Simpson related, was that mounting disagreement on the final design could stall the memorial and even derail it.
Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, responded that while not everyone could agree on the design, "I also know we have to move forward."
"I'm sorry we haven't been able to accommodate a difference of opinions," Mr. Roberts said. "Sometimes you can work things out, sometimes you can't."
Last week, the House Committee on Natural Resources, which is overseeing the memorial, approved legislation that would term-limit commission members to four years and offer a chance for new people to serve on the commission or for former members to serve again if they are chosen.
The memorial honoring the 34th president is planned for a 4-acre plot of land between the National Air and Space Museum and the U.S. Department of Education in Southwest. The design features a park area and stone panels engraved with portraits from Eisenhower's military and political careers set off by 80-foot columns supporting woven metal tapestries depicting scenes from his Kansas upbringing.
Mr. Gehry explained that the design was meant to capture the arc of Eisenhower's life, from his humble beginnings in Abilene, Kan. Eisenhower graduated from West Point and served in World War I before becoming the commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces during World War II. He was elected president of the United States and was in office from 1953 to 1961.
More than $60 million has been appropriated for the memorial since it was approved by Mr. Clinton in 1999, and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission has requested an additional $51 million for construction costs for its fiscal 2014 budget.
Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah Republican who sits on the Natural Resources Committee and drafted the bill, said his committee found "some very significant flaws" with the memorial commission's process, notably the way in which the architect and design were chosen.
"If we don't make some changes and ensure an open, public process, millions of dollars will continue to be wasted without any significant progress being made," Mr. Bishop said. "A new commission and a new design competition is the right way forward as we work toward developing a fitting tribute to the legacy of one of our nation's greatest leaders."
Mr. Gehry's name was first suggested in 2001 during the memorial commission's first meeting. David Eisenhower, grandson of the late president and a member of the commission from 2001, had played a central role in selecting Mr. Gehry as the lead architect. But he resigned in December 2011 after Eisenhower family members rejected the design.
Despite having to listen to criticism of his design, Mr. Gehry said that he respected the Eisenhower family and could sympathize with their concerns.
"I can imagine if it was my family and I had to make those choices, I'd be a pain in the ass," he said after the meeting. "Once it gets built, I hope they will understand the amount of love and attention put into it."
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