Design Concept Chosen for the Eisenhower Memorial

Dear Coalition Friends:

Next week there will be two opportunities to see and comment on the design concept recently chosen for the Eisenhower memorial.  On April 21st, at 1 p.m. in the offices of the Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission will review the project.  The public is invited to testify.  Then, on April 22nd, from 6-8 p.m. in the Old Post Office, the public consultation process for the memorial formally begins with a scoping meeting.

Both notices for these meetings are provided below, following the Washington Post article.  Notice that on the 21st there will be consideration of three additional memorial proposals.

The memorial design concept already has elicited numerous comments and concerns, including those raised by Washington Post architecture critic Roger Lewis.  See his commentary below.  Click on the link to his piece to see illustrations of the design.

The memorial will be located just south of the National Mall, on Maryland Avenue across Independence Avenue from the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

When the site was selected, the Coalition took the position that any design should preserve the open vista down Maryland Avenue to the Capitol Building.  Further, it should protect the integrity of the historical concept of Maryland Avenue being the south-of-the-Mall counterpart to Pennsylvania Avenue north of the Mall, as intended in the L’Enfant Plan and reinforced in the McMillan Plan of 1902.  You can see how this symmetrical relationship is part of the layout of Washington, D.C., and the Mall in those plans.


Shaping the City

For Frank Gehry’s Eisenhower memorial, less would be more

By Roger K. Lewis, Saturday, April 10, 2010; E04

Architect Frank Gehry’s design concept for the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Memorial, while not embodying Gehry’s signature language of complex curved surfaces, does achieve the bigness and boldness that are hallmarks of his work. But pursuing bigness and boldness can lead to bloat, which regrettably appears to be the hallmark of the memorial design.

The designated Eisenhower memorial site is a large open space south of the National Air and Space Museum. Maryland Avenue SW divides the site into two triangular spaces, one now a small public garden and the other an underutilized public plaza in front of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education Building. Closing the avenue will create an extensive rectangular site bounded by Independence Avenue, 4th and 6th streets, and the Education building.

As in all memorial design, the challenge was to find an appropriate expression of commemoration — in this case, honoring Eisenhower’s historic achievements as a great military leader, university president and president of the United States. But Gehry also faced urban design challenges: an expansive four-acre site, equivalent to almost four football fields; a massive, very popular museum directly across busy Independence Avenue; and a sizable, architecturally undistinguished federal office building stretching across the site’s entire southern edge.

These challenges elicited two questionable design strategies: compete with and match the scale of the large, neighboring edifices and, going a step further, hide the federal office building. This was not easy, since the memorial is not a building.

So Gehry did the next best thing to designing a building. Using tall, monumentally scaled cylindrical columns marching along the site’s north and south edges, and stretching woven metal “tapestries” several stories high between the columns, he created a virtual building in outline. The colonnade and mesh scrim along the south edge of the memorial mask the Education Department building. On the Independence Avenue side, mesh segments span only the pairs of columns adjacent to 4th and 6th streets, allowing views into and out of the memorial site.

The heroically scaled colonnades and mesh scrims boldly frame and contain the memorial, at once an enclosed urban space and a seemingly sacred space. Within the sanctuary will be paved walking surfaces, trees and, in the center, a circular array of stone blocks of diverse size, shape and orientation. Surrounding a vegetated area and pool, the stones will contain carved images and commemorative inscriptions.

The design exploits the dramatic contrast between the immense scale of the colonnades and scrims and the intimate, pedestrian-scale space within. But it raises fundamental questions. In any city, and in Washington in particular, why house a memorial in a new, quasi-enclosed “room” — built at great expense — within a larger urban “room” already framed by existing buildings? And why does this or any other memorial need to be so large and necessitate so much construction?

As we architects often say, it looks overdesigned. The scale and dimensional aspirations of the project are not surprising, given both Gehry’s compositional bent and the tendency to create imposing, expansive memorials in the capital’s monumental core.

Several memorials of recent vintage consume generous amounts of landscape. For example, the artfully hewn Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, stretching along the southwestern edge of the Tidal Basin, is inspiring but physically more extensive than necessary. And the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, with an evocative stone sculpture of King at its center, will occupy a sizable piece of West Potomac Park on the western edge of the Tidal Basin.

It may appear that lots of public property remains on which to build memorials in the heart of the nation’s capital. But if we keep using excessive amounts of land for each new one, eventually we will run out of sites. Where will future generations erect memorials, since surely many more individuals and events will deserve commemoration in centuries to come?

The desire for grand memorials is understandable. But creating an inspiring memorial does not necessitate building something vast, grandiose or bristling with an excess of elements. A simple yet memorable design idea, beautifully uniting landscape and structure, can be very powerful. The Washington Monument, a tall, unadorned obelisk on a low hill, exemplifies potent simplicity. Conversely, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial incises a simple, inscribed wall and walkway within the landscape, an expressive gesture of commemoration that profoundly moves visitors.

Fortunately, the Eisenhower memorial design is preliminary, and there is time and opportunity for Gehry to explore the notion that, for this project, less might be more. Let’s hope that the architect and his client do some serious aesthetic editing.

Roger K. Lewis is a practicing architect and a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland. He may be contacted at

National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission
Notice of Public Meeting
A meeting of the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission  (the Commission)  will be held at 1:00 p.m., on Wednesday, April 21, 2010,  at the  National  Building    Museum,  Room  312,  401 F Streets, NW., Washington, DC.
I.     Design Consultation – Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial.
II.   Review  of  Legislation  Pending  in  the 111th Congress:

(a)   H.R. 4197, A bill to authorize the Gold Star Mothers National Monument Foundation to establish a national monument in the District of Columbia.
(b)  H.R. 4195, A bill to authorize the Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation to establish a commemorative work in the District of Columbia and its environs to commemorate the establishment of the Peace Corps and to honor the ideals upon which it was founded.
(c) H.R. 4036, a bill to authorize the National Mall Liberty Fund D.C. to establish a memorial on Federal land in the District of Columbia to honor free persons and slaves who fought for independence, liberty, and justice for all during the American Revolution.

III.  Consideration of proposed revised bylaws for the Commission commensurate with the General Services Administration’s recommendations for advisory committee bylaws and the Unfunded Mandates Act of 1995 enacted to reduce unfunded mandates on State and Local governments.

The   Commission   was   established  by Public Law 99-652, the Commemorative Works Act (40 U.S.C. Chapter 89 et seq.),  to  advise  the  Secretary  of  the Interior (the Secretary) and the Administrator, General Services Administration, (the Administrator) on   policy   and    procedures    for establishment of (and proposals to establish) commemorative works in the District of Columbia and its environs, as well as such other matters as it may deem appropriate concerning commemorative works.  The Commission examines each memorial  proposal for  conformance  to   the   Commemorative  Works Act,   and   makes    recommendations   to   the Secretary and the Administrator and to Members and Committees of Congress. The Commission also serves as a source of information for persons seeking to establish memorials in Washington, DC, and its environs.

The members of the Commission are as follows:
Director, National Park Service (Chairman)
Chairman, National Capital Planning Commission
Architect of the Capitol
Chairman, American Battle Monuments Commission
Chairman, Commission of Fine Arts
Mayor of the District of Columbia
Administrator, General Services Administration
Secretary of Defense

The meeting will be open to the public. Any person may file with the Commission a written statement concerning the matters to be discussed.  Statements and correspondence should be addressed to:  Peter May, Chairman, National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission, 1100 Ohio Drive, SW., Room 220, Washington, D.C., 20242,  Attention:    Nancy Young, Secretary  to the Commission.  Statements and related correspondence should be mailed or hand-delivered to this address, faxed to 202/619-7420, or emailed to  Persons who want further information concerning the agenda topics or meeting arrangements, or who wish to file a written statement or testify at the meeting should contact Ms. Young for assistance by telephone at (202) 619-7097 or by email at

Before   including   your  address,  phone   number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that  your  entire  comment  –  including your personal identifying information – may be made publicly  available  at  any  time.   While  you  can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

Notice of Scoping Meeting/Section 106 Consultation Meeting
For Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial

To be held on April 22, 2010
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Old Post Office Pavilion Tower
Room M-09
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 2004-2501

The National Park Service (NPS) and the Eisenhower Memorial Commission (the Commission) propose to establish a national memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower on a site located at Maryland and Independence Avenues, and 4th and 6th Streets in southwest Washington, DC in proximity to the National Mall and US Capitol Building. The Commission, created in October 1999 by Public Law 106-79, is charged with memorializing Dwight D. Eisenhower’s military achievements, Presidential accomplishments, and lifetime of public service. The site is located on federal lands owned by the NPS, the District of Columbia, and the General Services Administration (GSA). The National Capital Planning Commission encouraged redevelopment of the site as a major memorial as part of its December 2001 Museums and Memorials Master Plan. NPS is the lead federal agency for this project. The GSA is a cooperating agency.

In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, the NPS and the Commission are preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) to evaluate the proposed development of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial. In addition, consistent with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the project’s potential effect on historic resources will also be evaluated. Section 106 is the process by which federal agencies take into account the effect of undertakings upon historic resources on or eligible for the National Register for Historic Places. The EA will address the project background (including a summary of the 2006 planning process that determined the site for the memorial site), the purpose and need for the memorial, the no action alternative and three build alternatives, a determination of environmental issues and potential impacts of a memorial based the specific memorial design, and public involvement and agency coordination.

The proposed action would establish the memorial on the project site and could result in the closure of the segment of Maryland Avenue to vehicular traffic, the removal of limited structures on the site, and the construction and operation of a memorial of undetermined design to commemorate Dwight D. Eisenhower. Conceptual designs of the memorial are being developed. One build alternative will explore a memorial concept for the site that preserves the Maryland Avenue cartway. The alternative designs will address the constraints of the site, including adjacent building heights, setbacks from the perimeter streets and the US Department of Education Building, and the preservation of the Maryland Avenue view corridor aligned with the nearby US Capitol Building.

As part of this planning effort, a public scoping meeting will be held by the NPS and the Commission on Thursday, April 22, 2010 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM at the Old Post Office Tower (Room M-O9), 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC. NPS staff, Commission staff, and their consultants will present project information from 6:00 PM to 6:30 PM. Subsequently, during an open house from 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM, the project team will available to discuss alternatives and site characteristics. The public scoping meeting will also provide the first opportunity for consultation on the project under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

If you wish to comment on the on the proposed Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, comments will be taken during this meeting, or you may submit them electronically (the NPS preferred method of receiving comments), by fax, or mail them directly. The NPS will accept comments on the proposed project through May 30, 2010.

Submit comments on-line by following the appropriate links at:

Fax comments to:
Attn: Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Project
(202) 401-0017
Mailed directly to:
Attn: Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Project
601 Prince Street
Alexandria, VA 22314

If you require additional information or special assistance to attend and participate in this meeting, please contact Glenn DeMarr at the NPS at (202) 619-7027.


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