Monday, September 8, 2014

Frank Gehry has RADICALLY changed the proposed Eisenhower Memorial!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Or, you know, maybe not.

Gehry's widely-derided design for the presidential memorial, set for construction on a park on Maryland Avenue SW just north and adjacent to the U.S. Department of Education office building, was soundly rejected by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) in April. The NCPC, along with the U.S. Commission of Fine arts (CFA), has the authority to approve the design of the memorial. The memorial must conform to existing planning and design elements to ensure it fits with the rest of the area in the National Capital.

Gehry's design placed 80-foot-high, 10-feet-wide tan concrete columns on the four corners of the site. Hung between the columns on the east, west, and south sides were huge steel nets, onto which images of bare trees were to be painted. Gehry steadfastly refused to admit it, but the tapestries were there to block the views of the Capitol to the northwest; the Dept. of Education building (a bland steel-and-blueglass brick) to the south; and the CSX railroad trench and Federal Center Southwest office park.

The NCPC strongly criticized the Gehry design for blocking the viewshed along Maryland Avenue SW, including blocking the view of the U.S. Capitol Building from all sites southwest. Frustrated with Gehry's refusal to eliminate the worst aspects of his design, the NCPC laid out seven design principles in April 2014, and asked that the Eisenhower Memorial meet them before it would go any further. (The CFA, meanwhile, approved Gehry's design in July 2013. The CFA does not have to take into account planning, viewshed, and other issues like the NCPC does.)

At the NCPC meeting yesterday, Frank Gehry told the commission that he was taking down the east and west tapestries. However, the columns would remain -- so that there now will be two freestanding columns at the northeast and northwest corners of the site. It's not clear why Gehry believes these elements are essential to the design, now that the tapestries they supported are gone.

Gehry also pushed the columns closest to Independence Avenue south by 47 feet, widened the grassy tapis verdt that mimics Maryland Avenue to 135 feet from 95 feet, and eliminated two of the columns along the southern border.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Oversight Committee, has blasted the Gehry design as well. Issa's committee released a major study of the design process in August that called Gehry's plan a "five-star folly". Issa, however, has long refused to endorse demands to junk the design and start over. The Eisenhower Memorial Commission spent $41 million over the past decade and no memorial has even been approved -- much less begun construction. (No one is likely to break the record set by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. First approved in 1955, a design wasn't approved until 1978! Construction wasn't authorized until 1982, and didn't begin until 1991.)

Congress zeroed-out funding for the Eisenhower Memorial Commission in 2014. Issa fears that if the Gehry design was scrapped, Congress would not approve a new memorial, and thus no memorial to the Republican Party's second-greatest president would ever be built.

There is no word yet from the Eisenhower Family about whether they approve of the new design. The family is in turmoil: David Eisenhower sits on the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, and approved the Gehry design. But when that design was made public, other members of the Eisenhower family -- notably granddaughter Susan Eisenhower -- blasted the tapestries, columns, and statuary as completely inappropriate. David resigned from the commission. Susan Eisenhower, speaking for an undisclosed number of family members, said that the columns look like ICBM missiles, and are appallingly poor design choices for a president committed to strategic arms limitations. (The family's approval is not necessary for the design to move foward.)

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