The Eisenhower Memorial Commission is standing behind its designer, architect Frank Gehry, FAIA.
In a release yesterday, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission issued a statement of support for Gehry. The statement was signed by every member of the commission, including chairman Rocco Siciliano, vice chairman Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), both senators from President Eisenhower’s home state of Kansas, and five other members of Congress.
“The members of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission are unanimous in their total and unqualified support for Frank Gehry and his vision for the memorial that will commemorate Dwight David Eisenhower in his roles as both a Supreme Allied Commander during World War II and 34th President of the United States of America,” the letter reads.
The letter follows a March 20 hearing before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands on Gehry’s design for the memorial. Members of Eisenhower’s family, classical architects, and others testified at the hearing, whose tone was largely critical in nature.
At that hearing, Howard Segermark, director of the National Civic Art Society—a body of classical architects and conservative thinkers that has led the public opposition to Gehry’s design—testified that the commission’s decision to employ the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA)’s Design Excellence Program for the design solicitation limited the competition.
GSA assistant commissioner for the Office of Construction Programs William J. Guerin responded in testimony. “To characterize this as a closed competition really isn’t correct,” he said.
Atlanta-based architect Rodney Mims Cook Jr., a designer who focuses on new classical monuments, testified in personal terms about Gehry. “He has a distinctive unease with greatness,” Cook said. Cook further testified that the design of the memorial’s steel tapestries could entail cleanup costs of as much as $1 million annually—though Eisenhower Memorial Commission executive director Brig. Gen. Carl Reddell, USAF (Ret.) testified that no maintenance-cost estimates had yet been produced.
Subcommittee chairman Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) asked what it would cost, in dollars and in time, to start the design commission process over. Reddell said that it would take another two to three years and as much as $16 million, equal to the amount spent so far during the current design phase. Cook, however, said that he could complete a design competition for the Eisenhower Memorial in six months.
“I remain concerned that efforts are underway to usher through a memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower that we cannot afford to get wrong,” said Bishop, in a release that immediately followed the hearing last week. “The law requires consensus on this project, which has not yet been achieved.”
Gehry was not present for the hearing, though a letter from the architect was introduced into the record saying that he was open to changes to the design. Neither was any representative present from Zahner, the engineering and fabrication company provisionally tapped to manufacture the steel tapestries, which were subject to criticism and conjecture during the hearing.
The letter from the Eisenhower Memorial Commission represents the strongest statement to date that the commission intends to stick with Gehry’s design—despite the concerns of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, and others in Congress. (Read our earlier coverage of the House Oversight Committee’s interest in Gehry’s design for the memorial here.)
“Frank Gehry has followed the direction provided to him by this commission,” the commission’s letter reads. “He has also consulted with the Eisenhower Family. His design for the Memorial is exciting, creative and inspiring.”
The letter ends with a quote from President Eisenhower.
“As Eisenhower himself said, ‘For our republic to stay free, those among us with the rare gift of artistry must be able to freely use their talent.’ ”