Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Eisenhower Memorial Draws Flack, Competition

After a contentious burst of outrage over the release of designs for the future Eisenhower Memorial in Southwest DC, at least one arts organization has decided to support its own competition for design of the monument. The National Civic Art Society, a Washington DC-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting classical art and architecture, has publicly opposed the design and is seeking submissions for what it hopes will replace the current proposal solicited by the Eisenhower Memorial Commission and designed by famed architect Frank Gehry.

The NCAS intends to launch a publicity campaign this week to generate alternatives to the three, very publicly denigrated proposals now before The National Capital Planning Commission. Nearly unanimous public contempt of the proposals under consideration was apparent after DCMud and DCist reported on the plans under review, reports that generated overwhelmingly negative comments. "There are better options here for honoring President Eisenhower than big metal poles" said Eric Wind of NCAS, referring to the free-standing columns that will rise in the middle of the park as part of the Memorial. In sponsoring the competition, Wind says the ultimate design should reflect the subject of its tribute rather than salute the fame of its designer. "When you see the Lincoln [Memorial], 99% of the people don't think of the designer, its supposed to be a timeless monument. The emphasis is on the person honored." As for the architect, Wind says of Gehry "he has supporters and dectractors, but when it comes to this design I haven't seen anyone in favor. Some of [his designs] are better than others, but this is among his worst."

The NCAS competition was inspired in part by the design of the Alaskan state capitol building, which Wind says was the subject of a design competition that resulted in a "horrible" winner. In the aftermath of the competition and negative publicity it received, an architecture student "sat down in a few hours and designed something much better" that resulted in a rethinking of the project.

"In general this just does not match the aesthetics of Washington DC," said Wind, who wants to reach out to students and critics to come up with, well, anything better, though he has no illusions that forcing a do-over will be easy. "I think its safe to say we're an underdog." The Memorial was created by an act of Congress and has been approved by the Eisenhower Commission and The U.S. Commission on Fine Arts.

"If we can show the public what a truly classical, beautiful design looks like, we hope [the Commission] will reconsider, it will look much better than what Gehry has designed." The Eisenhower Commission selected architect Frank Gehry in early 2009 in a highly publicized national design competition. The deadline for submissions is April 15th, the contest is being cosponsored by the Institute for Classical Architecture Mid Atlantic Chapter. NCPC will review the Gehry designs today at its 12:30 meeting.

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Anonymous said...

Do it! This may not be Cairo, but maybe if enough people make enough noise about abusing our city, the people behind this will rethink. Its possible.

Laurence Aurbach on Feb 2, 2011, 7:20:00 PM said...

Please note this correction: The Alaskan Capitol counterproposal was not designed by an architecture student. It was designed by Marianne Cusato, a licensed architect and author of "Get Your House Right: Architectural Elements to Use & Avoid." You can see Cusato's counterproposal in her article Alaska Deserves a Real Capitol Building, Not an Egg.

Ace in DC said...

Can't we just have a nice area with some trees - so tourist can hide from the oppressive heat on the barren wasteland which is the National Mall. Why goof it up with wacky pillars and weird panels. Trees, cool/designy benches, some interesting platforms (trees at different levels, etc). Maybe a fountain. Damn - I should be an architect! Oh and a nice statue of Ike. Done - Ill draw it up for a $150 Starbucks card.

Anonymous said...

There were other archtitects in the competition - this design being the best:

Laurence Aurbach on Feb 2, 2011, 9:40:00 PM said...

Please note, the Alaskan Capitol counterproposal was not designed by an architecture student. It was designed by Marianne Cusato, a licensed architect and author of "Get Your House Right: Architectural Elements to Use & Avoid." You can see Cusato's counterproposal in her article "Alaska Deserves a Real Capitol Building, Not an Egg" (

Let's hope the National Civic Art Society's competition is equally successful in promoting a more beautiful, fitting, and popular design.

Anonymous said...

We should have learned now that simple is better. The simplicity of a fountain or sculpture is great, note the simple elegance of the Viet Nam Vets memorial vs. the overwrought, overdone WWII Memorial and FDR memorials, both of which completely overwhelm their surroundings and are much less powerful in their message. The latter are gaudy and wasteful in their use of space, the former remains a touching tribute.

Ken on Feb 3, 2011, 6:51:00 AM said...

We acknowledge the mistake about the Alaskan state capitol. Due to the late hour of publication DCMud did not have time to independently verify the author of the new design. We regret the error. Just to say thanks, we'll offer you a free one-year subscription to our newsletter.

Anonymous said...

My hope is this controversy will highlight the bankrupcy of conceptual modernism in how alienating it seems to sooo many people. If architects won't design buildings and monuments that more people like then voiding these proposals by public decree seems the only way.

Anonymous said...

Oh my god. NO, NO, NO! Classicism? Please, no. A classicist design would be one of the few things worse than the current schemes. Eisenhower was president during the 1950s, the beginning of the heyday of modernism. A classical memorial would be ridiculous, not just because it is inappropriate for our current time, but also because it is irrelevant to his own time. We just need a better modern solution!

Anonymous said...

You've got to be kidding. Gehry designs a bombastic monster and so suddenly Classicism is the answer? It's 2011, people. We don't build Greek temples anymore for many good reasons.

Anonymous said...

i agree. outright classicism seems too far in the other direction. besides, i think the fascist design of the WWII memorial has worn out the welcome for classicist memorials at the mall.

there simply needs to be a re-do. perhaps the real benefit of the NCAS effort could be build support and expose the need for reexamining the gehry proposal.

Thayer-D on Feb 4, 2011, 6:33:00 AM said...

We don't build Greek temples but yet most people would like to live in a Classically inspired Kalorama Town home over a glass and steel cube. Yeah, I can't tell you how many people lingering in the WWII memorial complain about it's fascist design!

It's 2011 people, it's about time to stop listening to those who say we must have cold and dehumanized art. Ironically, it sounds like the middle ages where a few high priests of modernism tell us what to like. Being truly modern is being able to decide what form best suits a function, even if it strives to be beautiful, not just deep.

I have an idea, get the winner of this classical competition and put it up against Gehry's design, and then have the public vote. Now that would truly be modern.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to see comments from the Architectural Committee of the Tea Party. Much as, to Tea Partiers, everything they like counts as "conservative," whereas everything they don't like counts as "liberal," here we see that everything they don't like counts as "Modern," and everything they like counts as "Classical."

How else to explain the previous commenter, who believes that the WWII Memorial is "modern"?!! (Somewhat stripped neo-classical would be accurate.) And that Kalorama townhouses are "classical"?! (Neo-Georgian would be accurate as a descriptor of the more classically-leaning Kalorama rowhouses.)

Sorry, Tea Party architecture critics, but thinking, learning, and analysis is necessary. The problem with Gehry's proposal isn't that it's modern--in fact that's about the only relevant & appropriate aspect of the design--the problem is that it's pointless and random.

Anonymous said...

did you ask for analysis?
ok, how about looking up the word modern and then telling us how the WWII memorial dosen't qualify.

Anonymous said...

The critics are traditionalist blowhards. They really should be called out on this. They are ideologically opposed to contemporary architecture. We're lucky that Gehry was picked -- he should be allowed to do what he does so well.

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