Construction of a Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial is no closer after the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts on Thursday expressed new criticism of the beleaguered project’s designs and voiced concern for visitors’ overall impressions.
“I feel like the elements are here,” commission member Elizabeth Meyer said, “but not displayed in a way that adds up to a memorial experience.”
Thursday’s meeting was the first time the commission has seen the design plans since July. At that meeting, members voted 3-1 to proceed with the current design, with three members not present, and asked to see more specific design details.
“I’m disappointed,” Ms. Meyer said. “I wanted more details on materials, not more demonstrations of architecture and landscape.”
The idea of a memorial to honor the 34th president has been well-received, but the design has drawn criticism from arts and civic associations, as well as some members of Congress and the Eisenhower family for its scale and its departure from the more classical style of monuments in Washington.
Designed by contemporary architect Frank Gehry and dedicated to the past president and decorated general, the memorial 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.
It features a park area and stone panels engraved with portraits from Eisenhower’s military and political careers and towering 80-foot columns to support stainless steel tapestries depicting scenes from his Kansas upbringing.
John Bowers of Gehry Partners said the memorial “represents Eisenhower as president, his military career, and as a young man looking out to the future at his achievements.”
“The size and scale is very large,” he added. “The columns and tapestry are means for us to organize the site and create space.”
Ms. Meyer said she welcomed the idea of a spatial experience, however, “I’m not convinced the aggregation of elements creates a memorial experience.”
Joseph Brown, chief of innovation for Aecom, a firm partnering in the design of the memorial, explained to board members that “this is really an urban park.
“There’s all kinds of activity there and lots of people from the air and space museum. We see the relationship of art with landscape and activity and get a very vibrant, exciting place.”
The columns, however, drew criticism from some of the board members, who said that despite their enormous presence, they did little to create a defined space.
“Your first sense of it would be gigantic columns,” commission member Alex Krieger said. “They might be giant chimneys that might be disguising an underground power plant.”
“I love the long tapestry as a background for the entire composition of the park,” he added, but the tapestries “are just flapping in the breeze as far as I’m concerned.”
Commission Chairman Earl A. Powell III summarized the body’s feelings on the project, saying “it has wonderful moments in it,” but “it’s a work in progress.”
The fine arts commission agreed to send a letter stating its concerns to the memorial commission. The design plans still require approval from the National Capital Planning Commission. More than $60 million has been appropriated for the memorial since it was approved in 1999.