Wednesday the House Natural Resources Committee approved the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Completion Act, a bill that would scrap the current design for the Eisenhower Memorial and reset the design process at square one.
That bill, introduced in March by Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation chair Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), calls for a new commission to replace the current Eisenhower Memorial Commission. This new commission would launch another design contest—one that would not be based on the Design Excellence Program process that selected Frank Gehry, FAIA, for the current design.
As amended Wednesday, the new design process would receive significant input from the Eisenhower family, who has rallied against Gehry's design for the Eisenhower Memorial.
"In hearings that have stretched over two years, I have become concerned that unless we make some changes to this memorial, it will never take place," Rep. Bishop said during today's markup hearing.
Rep. Bishop said that through the Design Excellence Program—which was launched by the U.S. General Services Administration to streamline the selection of architects for federal projects—the Eisenhower Memorial Commission invited three firms to submit prospectuses for the memorial design. According to Rep. Bishop, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission considered four designs total. He described the process as one that would have never considered the Vietnam Veterans Memorial design by Maya Lin, who was a student when she submitted her design—which is celebrated today but stirred wide controversy at the time.
That characterization, however, only considers the end-stage or hard-design evaluation. The Design Excellence Program typically surveys portfolio submissions from dozens of firms and designers before selecting finalists. (Update 6/14: After posting an announcement on government job sites and through professional organizations, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission received 44 portfolio submissions. Seven of these were considered as semifinalists, a number further winnowed down to four firms, each of which submitted three finalist designs.)
"The Eisenhower Memorial went through a rigorous approval process," said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who spoke up against Rep. Bishop's bill during markup. He added that the bill "would significantly change the composition of the Eisenhower commission and its staff."
See the latest changes to Gehry's design for the Eisenhower Memorial.
The committee considered one amendment, proposed by Rep. Bishop., that altered three aspects of the bill. The bill would authorize funds already appropriated for the current Eisenhower Memorial design be used for a new design contest.
Second, the amended bill calls for a new design commission. It would comprise 12 members, four picked by each of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the president of the United States (similar to the composition of the current commission). The Bishop amendment changes a requirement that elected House and Senate figures make up two-thirds of the commission, meaning its members could come from anywhere (even the existing commission).
The most dramatic change in the Bishop amendment requires that each appointment be made in consultation with the Eisenhower Foundation. Susan, Anne, and David Eisenhower—who have emerged as vocal opponents of Gehry's design—all serve on the board of the Abilene, Kan.–based nonprofit organization.
"I oppose the amendment," said Rep. Grijalva. "While the concern of the family must be taken into account, the consultation requirement tips the balance beyond what I am comfortable with."
Rep. Grijalva was the only representative who shared any concerns about the bill—which passed out of committee as amended on a voice vote. The bill now proceeds to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, where its fate is uncertain. Should it pass the Senate and be signed into law, it will be many more years before a design for the Eisenhower Memorial is finalized.
The Eisenhower Memorial Commission would not comment on the markup hearing. The commission will meet on Wednesday, June 19, at a place and time to be determined, to conduct its normal business.