Above left: Proposal for Eisenhower Memorial near the Mall, in Washington, by Frank Gehry; above right: counterproposal submitted by Rodney Mims Cook and Michael Franck (Eisenhower Memorial Commission, left, and National Civic Art Society) Click to enlarge. Another image of the Gehry proposal and the full Franck/Cook entry at bottom of this post
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Frank Gehry and members of the Memorial Commission view model of Gehry's Eisenhower proposal
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First-place counterproposal by Daniel Cook
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Second-place counterproposal by Sylvester Bartos and Whitley Esteban
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Third-place counterproposal (tie) by Francisco Ruiz
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Third-place counterproposal (tie) by Rob Fermin and Bruce Wolfe
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Commendation for counterproposal by Scott Collison
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Chelsea Barracks designs by Sir Richard Rogers (left) and Quinlan Terry (right). This juxtaposition was published repeatedly in British papers, along with reader polls that showed a three-to-one public preference for the Terry proposal
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When a memorial was proposed to honor Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th president and commander of Allied forces in the victory over Hitler in World War II, it was unsurprising that the system -- the architectural equivalent of the military/industrial complex -- chose a design more about the architect than the general.
Frank Gehry's design is sedate for a Gehry, without his typical flamboyant swirly-whirliness. But it also lacks any hint that this is to be a memorial, let alone a memorial to a great American hero of the 20th Century.
An alternative was sought through a counter-competition held by the National Civic Art Society and the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. The winners were unveiled on June 6, the anniversary of the D-Day invasion led by Eisenhower.
[A slide show of 14 of the 40 entries may be viewed here.]
All of the winning counterproposals speak far more eloquently than Gehry about the general's life and values. Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re was his favorite motto: "Gentle in manner, strong in deed" -- inscribed on his Oval Office paperweight. The counterproposals recall Eisenhower's character and history with the modesty inherent in a timeless classicism that voices meaning directly, hence forcefully.
The Gehry design features a twin linear set of unadorned posts upholding screens of metal mesh, each the size of a basketball court, on which images from Eisenhower's life are to be displayed. The memorial would squat near the Mall, between the U.S. Department of Education and the National Air and Space Museum.
To be kind, it is dull and clunky.
The Gehry memorial would be approached with a question mark in mind. Hmm. What is that? Getting closer, the bafflement would persist. Upon arrival, the word "Eisenhower" and his well-known image on the gigantic screens would reveal the purpose of the curious collection of concrete and metal forms. "Ah!" those in the know might exult, "Here is Frank Gehry's only design in the nation's capital!"
On seeing any of the classical counterproposals, however, we would recognize from a distance the traditional elements of a monument, be they arches, columns, obelisks, colonnades or whatever the architect has taken from classicism's wide palette. As we get closer, it becomes apparent that the monument is actually a memorial, that the subject of the memorial, revealed by figurative statuary, is a man, a general. On arrival we see his name engraved in granite; we recognize his visage in marble or bronze. We are awash in ornamental embellishment, which triggers emotions that history and memory connect with the man we are called to honor. We bathe in the vibes of greatness that monumental classicism generates.
To examine the winning counterproposals one by one is to marvel at the variety that can be achieved with classicism's building blocks. A favorite was hard for me to select. The excellent winning design by Daniel Cook features a triumphal arch. The equally elegant proposal by Michael Franck and Rodney Mims Cook (no relation), pictured above next to Gehry's, has a monumental column and a temple. All may be seen on my blog, but I believe the Franck/Cook entry best expresses the advantages of classicism in juxtaposition to the Gehry design.
The idea of counterproposals to a design already officially anointed is a very bold idea. To place the counterproposals alongside the Gehry proposal is an act that has meaning only in a democracy -- where public opinion has, if not always the force of law, the power of ultimate authority. How Americans honor their heroes, just as how we decide anything through politics, is a mix of official procedure and amendment guided by popular sentiment.
Thus it will be for Eisenhower. So it is not necessarily case closed for Gehry. It was case closed for Britain's Sir Richard Rogers, who thought he had an upscale London condo project in the bag. But along came Prince Charles, who sparked a public debate. Popular opinion dethroned the official Chelsea Barracks design in favor of a classical counterproposal.
America has no Prince Charles, of course, but it has a very thoughtful set of Eisenhower kin -- granddaughters Barbara Anne, Susan and Mary Jean, and grandson David. They have followed the memorial's design selection process, and they have the power, if they would like, to open it up again. Maybe they will share their feelings about how the nation should best honor their esteemed grandfather.
As for the rest of us, we like Ike, too, and we'd like Ike to like his own memorial.
David Brussat (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a member of The Journal's editorial board. His blog at projo.com is called Architecture Here and There.