Even as a controversial Frank Gehry design for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial is on the path to becoming a reality, one architect has proposed an alternative: a civic building in keeping with the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials but also with the Pentagon.
New Urbanist architect and planner Andrés Duany, FAIA, who shared the design with ARCHITECT, outlines a monumental scheme for the Eisenhower Memorial. The building would be triangular, with three entrances and dedicated façades corresponding to each of the phases of Eisenhower's life: as a young man from Abilene, Kan.; as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II; and as 34th president of the United States.
"I designed the Eisenhower Memorial relentlessly, from beginning to end, to see whether I can communicate with the regular folks," Duany says. "Using the same program as Gehry, can I get that dad from Kansas, bringing his kid in, to explain what this man [Eisenhower] was like?"
(All images courtesy Duany.)
To that end, Duany's design quotes a piece of armament from World War II: the 150-mm "Long Tom" field gun, which first saw combat in 1942 and was deployed in both the European and Pacific Theaters. The structure's steel columns, which would be made to resemble the barrel of the field gun, would support an entablature made of riveted rolled steel, painted tank green.
The use of steel to complement the building's traditional limestone structure further references the military history of architecture. Duany notes that the same fabricators who designed the steel columns for Henri Labrouste's Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève would have built the cannons that preceded the "Long Tom."
"The 'Long Tom' cannon is one of the most exquisite shapes ever put out by a military engineer," Duany says.
Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society, says that his organization finds Duany's design superior to Gehry's and hopes for a new design competition. The National Civic Art Society has largely led the public protest over Gehry's design for the memorial. "Duany shows that one can respect our commemorative tradition without being a fuddy-duddy," Shubow writes in an email. "The design is also good urbanism: It comports with the L'Enfant and McMillan Plans, in particular the Maryland Avenue axis radiating from the Capitol—a boulevard that ought to achieve its rightful place as the twin sister of Pennsylvania Avenue."
Duany does not count himself as a critic of Gehry's design. "I don’t think there are any architectural failings. I think it’s fabulous. I happen to really like it," he says. "I do think Gehry’s submission is getting worse and worse as they dismantle it," he adds, referring to compromises introduced over the course of the debate. "As they dwindle it, they are minimizing its spatial enclosure—building a room with mesh—which is brilliant."
See the latest Gehry design for the Eisenhower Memorial.
At present, the Duany plan has no official backing. The Eisenhower Memorial Commission voted unanimously in favor of Gehry's plan in June, the same month that a House committee approved a bill submitted by House Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) to scrap Gehry's design and start over from scratch. Gehry's design has since won the endorsement of the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts. Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, who is Duany's partner and wife, serves as the commission's vice chairman and voted in favor of Gehry's design.
Duany insists that his alternative proposal is a reaction to the mixed response that Gehry's design has received from the public, and the culmination of his continuing study of the classical orders. Official or not, the alternative proposal might find sympathetic backers among Gehry's critics, chiefly Rep. Bishop and several members of Eisenhower's family.
See public officials' comments on Gehry's design.
Back in March, during a hearing on the Eisenhower Memorial convened by the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation (which Rep. Bishop chairs), architect Arthur Cotton Moore presented his own plan for the memorial—one that he says would restore L'Enfant Plan and McMillan Commission Plan for the capital. The principal characteristics of Moore's vision are twin colossal statues of President Eisenhower and Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower flanking Maryland Avenue SW.
Gehry's design has garnered criticism for a number of its features, even as some of those elements have evolved over time.
By contrast, Duany's memorial would look less like the statues dotting the grounds of the Capitol just a few blocks away, and more like one of the buildings lining the National Mall. Duany says that his design could potentially incorporate three distinct genres of art: the Works Progress Administration–commissioned art of Eisenhower's childhood, art depicting World War II, and "the 1950s Norman Rockwell kind of patriotic art" that came to popularity during Eisenhower's presidency.
Whether another design for the memorial ever receives a hearing depends upon the outcome of the vote when Gehry's design goes up before the National Capital Planning Commission. From that point, it would take an act of Congress to scuttle Gehry's design.
Were Rep. Bishop's bill to do exactly that to succeed, it would cost $17 million over the next five years to launch another design contest, according to a recent Congressional Budget Office score. Yet the greatest obstacle to a Gehry-designed Eisenhower Memorial may not be more legislation, but a lack of it. The current continuing provides no funding for capital construction for the memorial.
"Moving forward, Congress should authorize these plans as quickly as possible so the memorial can proceed on schedule," offered The Washington Post, in an editorial on Gehry's design published earlier this month. "As entertaining as these squabbles have often been, enough is enough already."
This post has been updated.