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How much will the Eisenhower memorial cost?

How much would Frank Gehry's design for the Eisenhower Memorial cost? A lot, but not more than other similar memorials if you adjust for the rising cost of construction.

The Eisenhower Memorial. Image from NCPC.

At the recent National Capital Planning Commission meeting, the memorial's executive architect, Daniel Feil, stated that the hard costs, including parts and labor, of their design, include the metal tapestries which NCPC disapproved, would be $65-75 million.

Including "soft costs" for items such as construction overhead, insurance, and payments to DDOT for lost parking meter revenue, the budget will likely be about just shy of $100 million, according to the memorial's 2015 Budget Justification document.

There is no evidence for wild cost escalation. The competition announcement expected $55-75M in hard costs, and the announcement of the finalists listed $100M in total cost. The $144M figure that pops up is the expected expenditure of the entire Memorial Commission, 2009-2017.

How does that stack up against other memorials?

Critics have highlighted the cost and size of the memorial relative to comparable projects. Certainly the size can be debated. In fact, the most frequent criticism from the Commission of Fine Arts is that the site is too large, irrespective of the architect.

However, many critics use the wrong price index and don't account for the decreasing availability of highly skilled craftsmen over the years.

Most people know the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as a tool to calculate inflation. CPI follows the prices in a "basket" of consumer goods, but doesn't reflect construction materials. Construction, like all industries where labor can't be outsourced or automated, has seen inflation rise much faster than CPI.

There are, however, construction-specific price indices that calculate costs using a basket of construction goods. The most well-regarded is the Construction Costs Index, published by Engineering News-Record. If we use CCI to compare total cost of construction for major memorials nearby, the results are surprising.

Hist. CostYearIndexCCI estimateCPI estimate
T. Roosevelt$1,400,00019671,074$12,600,000$9,800,000
Click on a column header to sort.

In this light, the memorial is within the cost range of similar memorials. These costs don't even take into account major changes in financing, liability, or code requirements. Furthermore, the basket of goods in the CCI reflects material and labor costs for basics like wood, concrete, and steel. It does not include the high-grade finishes and highly-specialized skills required for stonework and bronze.

Where's the money going?

The Memorial Commission declined to provide a detailed cost breakdown, but Daniel Feil said at the meeting that one-third of the memorial's cost is reconstructing the ground. The site currently has a few grass patches and a plaza split by a road. The soils are compacted and a number of utilities run through the site.

In order to bring the soil up to National Park Service's standards for the National Mall, the design relocates utility lines and replaces the first five feet of soil.

Memorial site conditions and utilities. Eisenhower Memorial Commission / Gensler

Often, the most mundane elements of a design are the most costly. As seen in the cost of underground parking, excavation is very expensive and landscaping isn't much cheaper. Any memorial that occupies the right-of-way also requires relocating utilities to construct foundations or avoid ripping up the ground to repair utilities.

Is the cost fair?

As a number of critics have noted, recent memorials have become larger and more landscaped. Kirk Savage, author of Monument Wars, ties this to a greater emphasis on personal experience in a memorial, beginning with the McMillan Plan and escalating with Vietnam and FDR.

At the same time, the construction industry faces very serious problems with its costs. It is one of the few industries to become less efficient since 1970. How they'll reverse this trend is a billion-dollar question.

Both of these issues will remain big problems for our memorial landscape, and continue to dog the Eisenhower Memorial, however it gets built.

Neil Flanagan grew up in Ward 3 before graduating from the Yale School of Architecture. He is pursuing an architecture license. He really likes walking around and looking at stuff.  


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Don't like.

by asffa on Apr 10, 2014 12:18 pm • linkreport

I agree. The systemic failure of the AEC industry to control costs is a very serious problem!

by Neil Flanagan on Apr 10, 2014 12:21 pm • linkreport

If the Lincoln Memorial was pure marble, from Yule colorodo at today's prices, the materials cost would be 40 million dollars.

It isnt pure marble, and there is no working cost, but still. The lincoln memorial is huge. This Ike memorial comes off looking like a park with some junk in it, 100 million dollars is far too much for it.

The MLK memorial also comes off as signifigantly overpriced for what it is.

by Richard on Apr 10, 2014 12:55 pm • linkreport

O there is a Pentagon memorial. I was thinking 22 million was a little low for the Pentagon itself.

by Richard on Apr 10, 2014 12:57 pm • linkreport

Do you have a citation for that $40M price?

by Neil Flanagan on Apr 10, 2014 1:04 pm • linkreport

Took the weight and multiplied by the going rate for Yule marble. Back of the napkin type of calculation I admit. Some of it is sandstone which is much cheaper.

by Richard on Apr 10, 2014 1:57 pm • linkreport

I think that not accounting for the cost of labor is a pretty big mistake. It's a bigger percentage than materials on modern construction projects, even ones that have high-grad finishes.

by Neil Flanagan on Apr 10, 2014 3:12 pm • linkreport

Why is further chopping up the L'Enfant plan even on the table?

Hate the proposal, regardless of cost.

by CP on Apr 10, 2014 3:46 pm • linkreport

I think that not accounting for the cost of labor is a pretty big mistake. It's a bigger percentage than materials on modern construction projects, even ones that have high-grad finishes.

O of course the labor would cost a ton, 20 million easy. I was just saying that making something of the purest white marble money can buy isnt that expensive. No fill, no sandstone, 38,000 tons of fantastic marble is only 40mil.

It was a point of information. My views about the current design and the MLK memorial are different, I just thought it might be useful to know how much that much marble would costs in terms of raw materials.

You could build the lincoln memorial with 25% that much marble, but having the internal structure and walls that are out of reach made of something far cheaper. but whether is is 20% or 30%, and how much that cheaper stuff is, and how much the labor is are beyond the back of the napkin stuff.

by Richard on Apr 10, 2014 4:07 pm • linkreport

Yes to a Memorial - NO to THIS design.

by Ike Wouldn't Like on Apr 10, 2014 4:21 pm • linkreport

The washington monument would almost certainly top the list.

I look at this and I see immediately that the WWII and MLK memorials were way too expensive and maybe we should just take a break and figure out how to get value for our dollar.

Bottom line is that this will be the third or fourth most expensive presidential memorial in the nation's history. Is a memorial to Eisenhower really worth that?

by Mike on Apr 10, 2014 4:40 pm • linkreport

DDE administration doesn't merit a place on the Mall.

by Laura on Apr 10, 2014 5:41 pm • linkreport

"DDE administration doesn't merit a place on the Mall."

Ike was more than just POTUS. You should Google it sometime

by Jack Jackson on Apr 10, 2014 6:05 pm • linkreport

He was a somewhat better than average president by most historian surveys. He was the general that led the D-Day invasion, but if we were going to honor a great WWII General, it should be George Marshall, Eisenhower's mentor and patron and someone who proved to be a man for all seasons. Eisenhower didn't even bother to standup to McCarthy when he made ridiculous charges against. Marshall. Ike doesn't belong in the mall. This ugly debacle should simply end.

by Rich on Apr 11, 2014 6:27 pm • linkreport

Agree that Ike does not warrant his own separate memorial. Mall crowded enough as is. The real failure was in the design of the WW2 memorial, which instead of giant meaningless towers to each state (does anybody get this?), should have had just simple stations referencing each major U.S. battle and each major U.S. figure, including Ike, Marshall, Patton, Bradley, McCarthur, and FDR (whose memorial is nice, but overdone). And then I would replace FDR with a simple AA/Civil Rights Memorial, on the same arc around the Tidal basin, incorporating MLK, and avoiding what will soon be the (probably) overdone AA museum. Less/simpler is better and more powerful. Look at the center line from Lincoln to Washington to Grant. All simple, not much info., but all very meaningful. I say scrap the Ike memorial entirely. There is a statue (or two?) of him in DC already. I mean, whose next, Harry Truman?

by DC15 on Apr 12, 2014 10:18 am • linkreport

The ww2 memorial succeeds because it's a nice public space first, regardless of the symbolic content of the piers. Who knows what the columns of the Lincoln memorial stand for? Then again , it's biggest fault is that wall of stars which sever it from a clear view of the Lincolm memorial.

by Thayer-D on Apr 13, 2014 9:54 am • linkreport

Neil - I don't understand why you're banging the drum for this thing. No one else is, for a number of very good reasons, foremost of which being that it's an ugly design. Who cares what it costs? It's a rip-off at any price.

Although, to engage with your argument, sort of, my understanding is that Gehry has a pretty much perfect record of going way, way over budget. The MIT student center, for instance, was a cost fiasco. So maybe your number should be adjusted upwards?

by Alex on Apr 16, 2014 11:36 am • linkreport

Because Frank Gehry didn't design the MIT Student Center, that was Eduardo Catalano sometime in the 70s. Gehry designed a science building called the Stata Center that one of my friends works in and loves. It's ten years old now, BTW.

Forget the design. This kind of casual mistake is what bugs me. The "perfect record" is not supported by evidence. The design flaws at Stata were apparently about $1.5M in roof patches and cracks, shared with the contractors. The lawsuit was not only settled on good terms, MIT encouraged Gehry to bid on other projects.

Then the costs of the Stata Center, which went from $300M to $430M seem to have happened because they increased the size of the building from 300,000sf to 420,000sf and added an underground parking garage. Did Gehry's design push the size? Possibly. I don't know, and nobody who wasn't involved has a clue.

Cost escalations are disturbingly common in architecture. It's a really big problem, and making Gehry look like an outlier distracts from the issue. Everyone I know who's worked with (not for) Gehry, even if they hate his style, have nothing but praise for the operations of the firm. So something's up.

I can't get a straight story about whether Gehry Partners is the most competent firm in the world or the least. But all you hear are rumors that sound plausible because... Gehry is whacky, I guess. And no one bothers to fact-check.

This lack of accuracy has consequences in how architecture is discussed. If people hear BS about construction costs, contracting, review boards, maintenance, or the history of memorials, it has echoes in all discussions of architecture.

So let's be clear: I'm not banging the drum, I am using a high-profile project as a way to get professional knowledge out to the public, in the face of ridiculous, politically motivated hype. I don't see why that's a bad thing.

Though, Gehry doesn't understand cold weather. Too much time away from Toronto, eh?

by Neil Flanagan on Apr 16, 2014 12:51 pm • linkreport

As Neil reports, the $144M cost covers only 2009-2017. It does not include expenditures from 1999 through 2008, which appear to be on the order of $10M. That brings the total to $154M. And as noted below, the Commission estimated that each year of delay will cost $6M--and this memorial will, I assure you, be delayed for years if Gehry or the Commission doesn't quit now.

On Tuesday, the Washington Examiner published an investigative report on the Eisenhower Commission staff's financial waste as well as its lack of public accountability:

Sending a clear message, the House Natural Resources Committee sent out the article in a press release.

[[begin quote]]

Nine full-time, taxpayer-funded employees and a board of aging political leaders have spent the better part of a decade planning the memorial...

Earlier this year, the commission requested more than $50 million from Congress. But only $1 million was approved -- even though House and Senate appropriators serve on the 12-member commission.

It didn't help with either Congress or the NCPC that the commission jumped the gun by readying the design for construction long before getting even preliminary approval. [NCPC Commissioners mentioned this at the meeting, suggesting that their disapproval applies not just to the preliminary concept but to the essentially "completed" design. As NCPC's chairman said, "Some bells cannot be un-rung."]

Even 95 percent of the construction drawings, which tell laborers exactly how to construct it, had been prepared when the NCPC issued its decision, which was supposed to be based on preliminary concepts.

Federal EMC funds have been spent to hire a former top Obama administration official to persuade the federal planning board to drop its opposition.

Oversight of the commission is hobbled by the fact that its governing board is made up primarily of prominent politicians who have more pressing concerns.

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, the commissioners who serve on congressional appropriations committees, declined to comment. Reed hasn't attended a commission meeting in years.

The board chairman [Rocco Siciliano] is a nonagenarian former aide in the Eisenhower White House who is too “unwell” to participate in its daily operations...

As for the staff, it has contracted out virtually all major functions and even ceded contract management duties to another federal agency. Its executive director did not speak at the NCPC meeting.

All this has left EMC something of a piece of jetsam in a sea of government spending: an orphan too obscure to catch the attention of auditors but too small and dysfunctional to get anything done.

In the meantime, the commission is simply burning through the remainder of the $64 million it’s been appropriated since 2009. The monument’s projected final cost is about $150 million, but every year of delay will add at least $6 million. . . .

A spokeswoman for Siciliano said he was unavailable for comment because “he’s 92 years old and just not well.”

Asked who leads the project in Siciliano's absence, the spokeswoman said “the staff has always managed it since it was created.”

The spokeswoman added that “I don’t know that he cares to discuss [the broader vision] with anyone.”

Carl Reddel, the retired Air Force general who serves as the commission's executive director, is paid $156,000 annually while his deputy, Victoria Tigwell, earns $136,000.

Tigwell refused to speak to a reporter, relying instead upon a paid public relations firm headed by Chris Cimko.

Cimko referred all questions about the commission's spending, including for development of a website and iPhone app, to the General Services Administration. A GSA spokesman did not respond to a request for information...

The commission spent $1.2 million paying a professional fundraising firm through 2012, but had received only $448,000 in contributions as of last month...

Gehry used some of the at least $15 million in federal funding disbursed under the architecture contract to hire the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates. The firm deployed Gregory Craig, President Obama's first White House counsel, to help secure approval from the NCPC, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Civic Art Society...

When the National Civic Art Society included Tigwell on a mailing list that linked to an Architecture magazine article critical of the design, she responded: “Please unsubscribe me from your drivel.”

[[end quote]]

Such incivility has been directed not just at NCAS (whom they have called "militants" and "childish") but at reporters and even Congressional staffers. And then there's the issue of nepotism, and the still-opaque "competition."

Justin Shubow
President, National Civic Art Society

by Justin Shubow on Apr 18, 2014 11:32 am • linkreport

Since I can't help myself, a few data points on Gehry's cost escalations and attendant lawsuits:

Disney Concert Hall -- est. cost $100M (rev. from $50); actual cost $274M (not including subsequent hand-sanding of surfaces to stop the blinding, burning solar heat)

Aborted sculpture "Collar and Bow"--co-designed by Gehry, Olderburg, and Van Bruggen--which was to be placed in from of the Disney Hall escalated in cost from $2.2M to $6M. The L.A. Music Center sued Olderburg, Van Bruggen, and various engineers for the full $6M. It was Gehry's idea that they increase the height of the sculpture from 35 feet to 65 feet.

Pritzker Pavilion -- est. cost $10.8M; actual cost $60M (the builders sued the Public Building Commission of Chicago for $16M related to cost overruns)

Aborted Corcoran addition -- est. cost $40M; final est. cost $200M (the failed project arguably contributed to the museum's bankruptcy; Gehry got paid more than $14M)

Peter B. Lewis building at Case Western -- est. cost $25M; final cost $61.7M (not including installation of subsequent heated roof to prevent dangerous ice accumulation)

Aborted Peter B. Lewis house -- est. cost $5M; escalated to $80M (Gehry got paid $5M). According to Gehry, when Lewis' son finally got involved, "He spent three weeks in our office, and decided that we were scamming him."

As for the functionality of the Stata Center, Noam Chomsky is not a fan: "I still would prefer straight to slanted walls, so as to put up bookshelves and a blackboard." But hey, who needs functionality at one of the world's leading engineering schools?

by Justin Shubow on Apr 18, 2014 12:33 pm • linkreport

In a 2002 TED talk, Gehry joked that all of this buildings leaked prior to Bilbao. He said he reminded one of his clients that Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings leaked, too, and FLW told the clients to move their furniture.

In 2009, Gehry's C$276 Art Museum of Ontario suffered embarrassing leaks. I don't know if there was a lawsuit. Some photos:

by Justin Shubow on Apr 18, 2014 1:00 pm • linkreport

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