Gehry discussing his Eisenhower Memorial design

October 21, 2011 - 2:14 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Renowned architect Frank Gehry is discussing his concept for a Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial to be built near the National Mall, but the scale and imagery he wants to use to honor the war hero and 34th president is drawing criticism.

Famous for his striking structures with undulating exteriors, Gehry planned to outline his preliminary design plan Tuesday evening with the editor of Architectural Record and executives from the fields of architecture and construction at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

His design draws on Eisenhower's homecoming speech after World War II when he spoke of a barefoot boy from Kansas "who went on this odyssey" as a general in Europe, Gehry has said. The design would include large metal tapestries depicting trees and grain silos that evoke "Ike's" home in Kansas.

Those tapestries and huge columns that would uphold them have drawn criticism in some quarters.

The memorial also would include a landscaped park with other features marking Eisenhower's presidency and war years. It would be built just off the mall among buildings linked to Eisenhower's legacy, including the National Air and Space Museum and the U.S. Education Department. Organizers hope to complete the memorial in 2015 at a cost of $90 million to $110 million.

Susan Eisenhower, the president's granddaughter, recently issued a statement to The Washington Post on behalf of her family, saying they have concerns about the "concept for the memorial, as well as the scope and scale." It did not note any specific objections.

"We feel that now is the time to get these elements right — before any final design approvals are given and before any ground is broken," the statement read.

Eisenhower's grandchildren have requested a meeting with Gehry and officials from the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, said Dan Feil, the executive architect managing the project. David Eisenhower, the president's grandson, is a member of the commission.

"They need to be involved, and we're trying to do that," Feil told The Associated Press, adding that such a meeting won't necessarily affect the memorial's timeline. "They want time to participate in some of the discussions."

The 80-foot-tall columns measuring 11 feet in diameter that would hold up the memorial's tapestries have been the main point of contention. One member of the National Capital Planning Commission called them "gargantuan."

Gehry's selection of Kansas imagery for the tapestries also is being questioned. Architect John Hart, who represents Maryland on the commission, said he didn't see enough of Eisenhower in the design.

"I'm not seeing the celebration of the man ... in the depiction of a rural landscape," he said.

The design will evolve before a Dec. 1 meeting of the commission when organizers plan to seek preliminary approval of Gehry's design, Feil said.

Another federal panel, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, has commented favorably on Gehry's design and supported the concept.

The memorial would follow a monument to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which on Sunday became the first memorial honoring a black leader to be dedicated on the National Mall. The Eisenhower Memorial would be the first to a president since the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial opened in 1997.

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Brett Zongker can be reached at http://twitter.com/DCArtBeat

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