Eisenhower Family Objects to Gehry Design for Memorial

Blog: 02.08.12

Tuesday, February 07, 2012 - 04:17 PM

Eisenhower Memorial model image (‘The Elder Statesman’ photograph by Yousuf Karsh, 1966) Eisenhower Memorial model image (‘The Elder Statesman’ photograph by Yousuf Karsh, 1966) (Courtesy of Gehry Partners)

A design for a memorial to President Dwight D. Eisenhower on the National Mall has become the subject of controversy.  The New York Times reports that descendants of Eisenhower complain that Frank Gehry's design, which represents the president as a young farm boy, belittles his legacy of accomplishments.  (A nonprofit architecture group quoted in the Times article says the statue shows him as “cornpone in chief.”)

Some of Washington’s greatest monuments have similarly fraught histories.  In Studio 360’s American Icons: The Lincoln Memorial, we looked at the decades-long struggle over how to remember Lincoln.  That memorial did not get built until a lifetime after the Civil War had ended.  Politics played a role, with Lincoln still seen as an enemy by many in the former Confederate states.  But the design itself raised flags.  Unlike previous memorials, which show heroes in action poses, the Lincoln in the memorial is seated, contemplative — you could say passive; he looks like a man making a decision, not acting on one. 

Frank Lloyd Wright, still a force to be reckoned with in the 1920s, lambasted the memorial’s neoclassicism, seeing the Greek styling as a betrayal of America’s prairie son, its log-cabin president.  Wright called the memorial the “most asinine miscarriage of building materials that ever happened.”  This is true; we have the tape. (Listen below at 8:50.)

Listen to American Icons: The Lincoln Memorial


Next year, when Studio 360 unveils another round of American Icons, we’ll explore the history of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a remarkable piece of architecture that began — just began — to heal the rifts left in the wake of that war. 

Slideshow: Frank Gehry's design for the Eisenhower memorial

Courtesy of Gehry Partners

Aerial view of Eisenhower Square looking down Independence Avenue towards the southwest.

Courtesy of Gehry Partners

The Eisenhower Memorial features a triptych of sculpture and text presenting the General and the President — images and quotations shown are leading alternatives yet to be finalized. ("The Elder Statesman" from an original print by Yousuf Karsh, 1966.)

Courtesy of Gehry Partners

Eisenhower Square pedestrian experience, view along Maryland Avenue towards the Capitol.


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