Greater Greater Washington

NCPC sends Eisenhower Memorial design back for changes

After a five-hour hearing yesterday, the National Capital Planning Commission decided not to approve the current design for the Eisenhower Memorial. Although the commissioners praised various elements of the design, they found that the size and location of the 80-foot metal tapestries unacceptably disrupted key viewsheds and divided the site too starkly.


Sightlines through the model. All images from Gehry Partners/AECOM.

The "disapproval" does not mean a restart. Congressman Darrell Issa, who holds a seat on the commission as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, made a rare personal appearance. (NCPC formally includes multiple Congressional chairmen and Cabinet secretaries, but most of the time, staff from those committees and agencies actually go to the meeting.)

Issa pushed for NCPC to have the design team back every other month until they get the memorial approved, a motion which passed 7 to 3. Issa explicitly emphasized that the decision today was not a rejection.

NCPC voted to accept the staff's recommendations, meaning their interpretations of the design principles are no longer up for debate. The memorial cannot visually disrupt the 160-foot Maryland Avenue right of way. Any structures must be 50 feet or more from Independence Avenue. And the design can't divide the space into multiple precincts.

On the other hand, NCPC rejected calls from the Committee of 100 to retain the vehicular roadway on Maryland Avenue as a twin of Pennsylvania Avenue. The memorial will cut off one block of Maryland Avenue. It's not clear if the staff's strict interpretation of the L'Enfant Plan viewshed applies to other projects, such as the DC streetcar.


Partial view of the memorial core. "Presidency" tablet at left, Young Eisenhower at right.

Public and commissioners had many objections

Just over half of the public comments disapproved of some aspect of the design, for different reasons. Robert Miller, a mayoral appointee One of the commissioners said he didn't care about the intrusion to Independence Avenue, but cared a great deal about how the memorial intruded into the Maryland Avenue viewshed.

John Hart, the presidential appointee from Maryland, said he admired the tapestries, but found the size of the columns unacceptable. Issa felt that without representations of Eisenhower's life, the tapestries lost their original appeal. He and Department of Defense representative Bradley Provancha asked for more content about Eisenhower's domestic achievements.

The commissioners that have already worked on the project, the National Park Service's Peter May and Mina Wright from the General Services Administration, were its principal defenders. They challenged the process, the interpretation of the design principles, and political involvement. NPS is set to own the memorial, while GSA will manage the construction.

May and Wright both spoke out about the many erroneous claims made during testimony, for and against. Wright specifically asked the EMC staff architect to correct some facts. Peter May said that if the accusations of flimsiness about the tapestries were true, the Park Service would not have approved the memorial.

In the strangest moment of the day, Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock eloquently condemned a version of the memorial that has been obsolete since at least May 2013.

What happens next?

There is no doubt that the tapestries, as we've seen them so far, will not reappear. They may shrink, or they may disappear, leaving the memorial core as the most prominent element. I think that the core tableau has become the strongest element of the design, and can survive the loss of the tapestries.

There is also a strong possibility that architect Frank Gehry will walk off the project. That does not necessarily mean that the current scheme will leave with him. Under the contract, the Memorial Commission owns the design, which is 95% complete. Given the political climate at the NCPC meeting, if the architect left, it's likely they would continue to alter the design without Gehry Partners.

Taking control of the design away from the designer has a long history in Washington. The most notable example is right across the street. The National Museum of the American Indian fired architect Douglas Cardinal in a financial dispute, but the final design is clearly his.

The final possibility is that the memorial commission will scrap the design. Longtime critics of the memorial have proposed selecting a new designer in a competition. Given the repeated insistence that the design process end soon, it seems unlikely enough people would be willing to risk another extended design process.

Long processes are not uncommon to the history of memorial designs. The FDR memorial went through four years of design review, just to wait 17 years for funding. The challenge will be trying to find conceptual clarity and design integrity amid the increasingly complex pressure.

Correction: Robert Miller has posted a comment saying he was not the one who worried about the Maryland Avenue viewshed; his main objection is with the columns. We have removed Miller's name from that comment in the article.

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Neil Flanagan grew up in Ward 3 before graduating from the Yale School of Architecture. He is pursuing an architecture license. He writes on architecture and Russia at цarьchitect

Comments

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If DC cared as much about the negative externalities of automobiles as they do the negative externalities of metal tapestries, the city would be a much more livable place.

by nbluth on Apr 4, 2014 10:37 am • linkreport

I really haven't seen a rendition of this that looks remotely attractive. I dont like the MLK monument or the FDR one either(except Filo and FDR in the wheelchair). I have real doubts.

by Richard on Apr 4, 2014 10:38 am • linkreport

Can we just agree that the current Eisenhower Memorial is a total boondoggle, and shelve the whole thing for another 20 years or so? Meanwhile, give the man a nice statue on the Mall somewhere.

by Jasper on Apr 4, 2014 10:41 am • linkreport

You mean Fala?

by Neil Flanagan on Apr 4, 2014 10:42 am • linkreport

You mean Fala? yeah, wow I was just telling someone it was Fala not Filo a few months ago. Ugg

by Richard on Apr 4, 2014 10:47 am • linkreport

mmmmm... Filo....

by MLD on Apr 4, 2014 10:55 am • linkreport

I like the filo version of the tapestries as well, but it failed the technical analysis when the scientists found it simply too delicious for the national mall.

by Neil Flanagan on Apr 4, 2014 11:02 am • linkreport

+1 Neil F.

by JDC on Apr 4, 2014 11:07 am • linkreport

This memorial is perfect as representative of a highway cutting through a city. Though he claims he never intended for that, until all are removed, an ugly monument should remain to remind.

by NikolasM on Apr 4, 2014 11:18 am • linkreport

"It's not clear if the staff's strict interpretation of the L'Enfant Plan viewshed applies to other projects, such as the DC streetcar."

Ding! Nice dig, Neil.

by Adam L on Apr 4, 2014 12:16 pm • linkreport

Flanagan's coverage of the Ike Memorial has been so off-base that [deleted for violating the comment policy.] . (He published a hit-piece on me a few days ago that was full of easily disprovable falsehoods. The Ike Commission has repeatedly been trying to attack my credibility--as their executive architect did at the meeting yesterday.)

After Flanagan's GGW post on the Memorial went up on Wed., the Ike Commission distributed it immediately. Flanagan didn't say in his post today that he testified at the hearing. He also didn't mention that Mina Wright, who represents GSA at NCPC, specifically quoted his Wed. GGW post--while pretending not to know who wrote it!

And then Flanagan writes today, "Under the contract, the Memorial Commission owns the design, which is 95% complete." Flanagan actually dug up the contract? How did he find it? Not even I, who pretty much knows as much about the Memorial as anyone, knew that fact. No reporter has ever previously reported that.

Compare his post today with the following news stories:

WaPo: Planning Commission Goes to War with Gehry Partners over Eisenhower Memorial Design

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/museums/planning-commission-goes-to-war-with-gehry-partners-over-eisenhower-memorial-design/2014/04/03/b7351f14-bb6c-11e3-9c3c-311301e2167d_story.html

AP: Federal Commission Rejects Frank Gehry's Design for Eisenhower Memorial

http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/travel/253740581.html

Flanagan also neglected to mention that Issa objected to the landscape imagery on the tapestries, and instead asked for images of D-Day, etc. Needless to say, such a change will never happen: Gehry has already object to them, plus they will vastly reduce the transparency of the tapestries. Furthermore, Commissioner Provancha of DoD quoted Issa's *written* statement (Issa had left the meeting), which called the design or columns (I can't remember which) immodest and "unbefitting of Ike's humility." Provancha also mentioned his own concerns about cost escalation and suggested NCPC shouldn't override the Eisenhower family.

Also, Commissioners Hart and Miller made it clear they will not support *any* design with the columns. Miller called them "big bad bollards" and said they were fit for a highway overpass. Commissioner White also said the columns are "overwhelming from a human scale" and that the design is "like being in a movie theater being too close to the screen."

Any knowledgeable observer understands that the meeting effectively killed the design. Any kind statements from Issa et al. were to help Gehry save face.

Gehry, of course, wasn't there. If had cared about his design, he would have defended it even at the risk of suffering a defeat in person.

Justin Shubow
President, National Civic Art Society

by Justin Shubow on Apr 4, 2014 12:45 pm • linkreport

Just get rid of the obstructive tapestries. This isn't Times Square, for heaven's sake.

by Burd on Apr 4, 2014 12:59 pm • linkreport

Glad you alerted me to Neil's post on Medium, because it's really great!

by MLD on Apr 4, 2014 1:01 pm • linkreport

Yes, it's too bad the main tapestry will block the view of the treasured and oh-so-awesome LBJ Department of Ed building. Truly monumental civic architecture.

by MLD on Apr 4, 2014 1:04 pm • linkreport

Good report Neil. One problem: I take exception to the use of the "word" 'viewshed' though. 'Viewshed' is a modern concept and usually refers to a visual relationship between city and natural features - rivers, mountains, waterfronts, etc. These relationships are real, but usually pretty vague - we want to see the Front Range in Denver or the rivers in Manhattan in certain places. In L'Enfant's 18th c. city plan, the corridors (mainly) created by the wide diagonal avenues are (or should be) well-defined and intentional vistas forming the structure of the plan and connecting places of significance to create something more monumental and meaningful than any one building, memorial, or open space. That is not to say that things - whether they are minor like streetcar wires or significant elements like Ghery's memorial - shouldn't be located in the avenue right-of-ways, or even to say that elements in the right-of-ways couldn't sometimes improve the vistas in some instances, but just to note that L'Enfant's brilliant concept and the way it evolved through the centuries has created a fairly complex and beautiful urban design and intrusions into these vistas is no small thing and should not be taken lightly.

by Ron Eichner on Apr 4, 2014 1:10 pm • linkreport

Justin, thanks for filling in the picture. It's ironic that in his hit piece on you, he should write...

"I’d just discovered what many people had already realized: Justin Shubow plays fast and loose with what people say."

It's been my experience that Mr. Flanagan speaks from an ideological point of view as your quotes of him agreeing with many of the critics of this design illustrates. I love public hearings to actually hear what people say, like on GGW. You get a better cross section of what the public thinks rather than one hewed in the halls of Academia. I'd love to hear Mr. Gehry's reaction to this rejection. Probably the same as his reaction when his architect friends in the mid 1980's started to break away from modernist orthodoxy The times they are a changing!

by Thayer-D on Apr 4, 2014 2:24 pm • linkreport

"It's been my experience that Mr. Flanagan speaks from an ideological point of view "

Unlike everyone else here ;)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 4, 2014 2:32 pm • linkreport

Probably the same as his reaction when his architect friends in the mid 1980's started to break away from modernist orthodoxy

Not to be confused with Modern Orthodoxy

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_Orthodox_Judaism

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSJCSR4MuhU

by JewdishuarySquare on Apr 4, 2014 2:35 pm • linkreport

I think there is a really nice plot at the junction of 495, 395 and 95 where we could put an Ike memorial. It would have to be made on an epic scale to be visible from the road, but visitors to the region could take in all of his accomplishments while they circle around the cloverleaf endlessly.

by Richard on Apr 4, 2014 2:36 pm • linkreport

I think the implication being if one is upfront about their point of view. Was that too nuanced for you ?)

by Thayer-D on Apr 4, 2014 2:39 pm • linkreport

I just obtained Issa's letter to NCPC. He wrote, "I believe this design contains many admirable elements, but it also contains elements that have received justified opprobrium. Its immodesty is unbefitting of the humility and plain-spokeness that characterized our 34th President."

by Justin Shubow on Apr 4, 2014 2:53 pm • linkreport

It's too tall!

by Bob See on Apr 4, 2014 3:20 pm • linkreport

It's too tall? It's too goddamn ugly!

by Alex on Apr 4, 2014 3:28 pm • linkreport

Flanagan's coverage of the Ike Memorial has been so off-base that [deleted for violating the comment policy.] . (He published a hit-piece on me a few days ago that was full of easily disprovable falsehoods. The Ike Commission has repeatedly been trying to attack my credibility--as their executive architect did at the meeting yesterday.)

I hope when we see comments like this, we all think of the Takoma metro article. I know I'm not doing good in the world until I've been accused of shilling. My "hit piece" points out that a number of people dispute how Justin and his close ally Sam Roche used their words.

In addition to the article, there were 20+ people who spoke to me off the record to express similar irritation with their tactics. More than one said something to the effect of "when the book is written, it's going to be a revelation."

Now, I did not originally set out to write that piece. I felt that there was a low-level of quality in reporting about the memorial, and a lot of minor points were getting blown out of proportion. I just wanted to do a good fact-checking piece.

Justin reached out to me, so I took it as an opportunity to get both sides and maybe start up a dialogue. Justin isn't an architect, so I thought that some of his claims might have been good-faith misunderstandings of some of the technical documentation.

What Justin told me changed my mind, no dialogue was possible, but I won't share that because I meant for the meeting to just be friendly. However,

After Flanagan's GGW post on the Memorial went up on Wed., the Ike Commission distributed it immediately. Flanagan didn't say in his post today that he testified at the hearing. He also didn't mention that Mina Wright, who represents GSA at NCPC, specifically quoted his Wed. GGW post--while pretending not to know who wrote it!

Look, if I controlled Mina Wright, or the Eisenhower Commission, I'd have a better job. I also don't like to self-promote. IIRC, what Wright quoted was this "controversial" claim:

Treating the 160-foot corridor as the total viewshed turns it into a beautiful abstraction unmoored from the experience of people actually there. It defers too much to the beautiful emptiness that's great for looking at but not so good for daily life.

Honestly, if I'm biased against anyone, it's NCPC. People live here, you know!

And then Flanagan writes today, "Under the contract, the Memorial Commission owns the design, which is 95% complete." Flanagan actually dug up the contract? How did he find it?

Justin's right. I did the unthinkable, I called the Commission for clarifications of fact, as no journalist would ever do!! I saw in the budget justification that they say it's shovel-ready, so I asked if they had Construction Documents. They said they had 95% CDs. CDs are a professional term meaning is the highest level of drawing detail. That's really unusual in ANY project that doesn't have approval.

But for a firm like Gehry Partners that has an extraordinary level of technical competence in the staff, with lots of automated drawing tools, its' not surprising. Yes, I said that his firm is highly competent - for the 6-7 projects that have problems, the firm has done something like 400 buildings. People who've seen their drawings say they're impressively thorough.

I also asked what would happen if Gehry walked, since the rumor in the archiworld is that he won't budge on the tapestries. They pointed out that under the GSA-style contract, they own the drawings and the design.

I hope Justin does not use my admission of contact with the commission as proof that I work for them.

Not even I, who pretty much knows as much about the Memorial as anyone, knew that fact. No reporter has ever previously reported that.

I will let the first sentence stand on its own.

For the second, no reporter EVER reports the level of construction drawings on anything I have ever read outside of architecture trades. No reporter commented on what the NCPC's acceptance of the staff report meant for the design principles, either.

Compare his post today with the following news stories:

WaPo: Planning Commission Goes to War with Gehry Partners over Eisenhower Memorial Design

AP: Federal Commission Rejects Frank Gehry's Design for Eisenhower Memorial

Mine is about as positive as the Post one, but I'll admit I've been emphasizing the positives because otherwise, it runs the risk of being misinterpreted.

Flanagan also neglected to mention that Issa objected to the landscape imagery on the tapestries, and instead asked for images of D-Day, etc.

I actually did mention this, just more obliquely. He mentioned that he thought the tapestries "lost some of their original appeal," when it was reduced to Kansas.

Needless to say, such a change will never happen: Gehry has already object to them, plus they will vastly reduce the transparency of the tapestries. Furthermore, Commissioner Provancha of DoD quoted Issa's *written* statement (Issa had left the meeting), which called the design or columns (I can't remember which) immodest and "unbefitting of Ike's humility."

Gehry has objected to informal requests to change the design, but it's not clear if he'll continue to object to a formal ruling. I don't think adding more content is good, a number of NCAS affiliates noted that there was too much content already.

As you corrected below, Issa said that some of it was good and some immodest.

How did you get that letter, BTW? Without connections on Capitol Hill, it was hell to get the letter from Inouye to Siciliano.

Provancha also mentioned his own concerns about cost escalation and suggested NCPC shouldn't override the Eisenhower family.

And Daniel Feil pointed out that the pre-selection budget was $55M, but due to changes in scope and scale, the budget was $65-75M in the contract, but that Gehry has designed to that budget. With the columns and tapestries gone, the costs may go down considerably. These are hard cost numbers. More on that next week!

The idea that the Eisenhower Family needs to be deferred to is strange, since this is a national memorial. Gehry has already made major changes to the memorial core to make them happy. Admittedly, without those changes, I would not support it.

Susan Eisenhower is no sweet-hearted ingenue. She's a 60-something hard-driving foreign policy expert.

Also, Commissioners Hart and Miller made it clear they will not support *any* design with the columns. Miller called them "big bad bollards" and said they were fit for a highway overpass. Commissioner White also said the columns are "overwhelming from a human scale" and that the design is "like being in a movie theater being too close to the screen."

This is mostly true. Hart expressed great appreciation for the tapestries and asked if they could be made smaller or clad in metal. When he was told they couldn't be, he said he would not support a design with the columns. Hart also went after the support building, but his motion failed.

Any knowledgeable observer understands that the meeting effectively killed the design. Any kind statements from Issa et al. were to help Gehry save face.

I think it was unclear. When I tried to talk to the Gehry folks, they seemed sanguine, but wouldn't say anything. I think there is a strong possibility they will walk. If they don't, it could mean as little as one CFA meeting and an item on the NCPC consent calendar. It's not so stunning of a defeat, or one that wasn't foreseen.

Gehry, of course, wasn't there. If had cared about his design, he would have defended it even at the risk of suffering a defeat in person.

Gehry seems to have been required by his contract with Yale School of Architecture to be there for their admitted students open house. How do I know this? Well, the teaching contracts for the big names are set some time in advance. The only thing more powerful than Washington bureaucracy is the educational-industrial complex. Also money, which Yale has a lot of.

by Neil Flanagan on Apr 4, 2014 5:55 pm • linkreport

I'd like to clarify this line:

I don't think adding more content is good, a number of NCAS affiliates noted that there was too much content already.

I don't agree with the NCAS affiliates. I think it has the right amount of content. Just that quoting Issa goes against your own words and the words of people you work with.

by Neil Flanagan on Apr 4, 2014 6:58 pm • linkreport

I personally would like to see this blow-up completely and never get built. Eisenhower was a distinguished general but his career pales in comparison to that of his mentor/patron, General George Marshall. As a president he looks good only in comparison with some of those who followed him, including his former Vice President (whom he never wanted on the ticket and treated with disdain). Like his predecessor, Truman, he looks better from the perspective of history but is no way in the same league as leader as the others on the mall. The designs have all been ugly and perhhaps reflect the lack of a fitting legacy for a somewhat better than average president and someone who was one of a number of significant military figures in WWII and but not the most significant.

by Rich on Apr 5, 2014 1:21 am • linkreport

Given the lack of enthusiasm of ANY party in this fight for the Gehry design, I seriously doubt it will ever be built. Indeed, the only thing that seems to keep this issue going is the fear of sunk costs and becoming the latest gov't scanadal (Breibart headline: Obama administration wastes $$ on fancy-schmancy archetect to design Ike monument, then drops it, dishonors Ike, ad nauseum).

My two cents: Start from scratch and have an open competition!!

by Adam on Apr 5, 2014 8:14 am • linkreport

I'm sorry that Neil thinks "no dialogue is possible" with me because of (unnamed) things I supposedly said in friendly conversation. To my mind, this strikes against the liberal spirit of GGW. I thought our meeting was the beginning of a friendship, and I continue to hold out that hope.

One point of clarification: I did already know that the Eisenhower Commission claimed in its 2015 budget that the design was at 95% construction documents. (BTW, that 95% is not legally possible at this time since NCPC will have a heavy hand in final CD.) What I didn't know was the question of *ownership* of Gehry's design.

Also, contrary to Neil's report, that budget [PDF here] explicitly says the design is *not* "shovel-ready." As the budget notes, the design is not shovel-ready because it hasn't received final approval from CFA or NCPC. And the latter just denied even preliminary approval.

Note, however, that Eisenhower Commission later claimed in a 2/24/14 Roll Call letter (in response to my op-ed) that the memorial *is* "shovel-ready"! This is a lie--and a self-contradiction.

That same letter, without providing any evidence, accuses the opposition of being partisan and ideological, which is obviously false as I demonstrated in my letter in response. (We now have even stronger evidence given NCPC's action and the letters we have from Mayor Gray and Eleanor Holmes Norton.) Maybe I'm guilty of twisting the facts, but so is a congressional commission with an annual operating budget of $2 million. Which is worse?

Incidentally, I also note in my response that the co-author of the Eisenhower Commission's letter, former Marine Commandant P.X. Kelley, is the father of the Commission's PR agent Chris Cimko, who was working for the Commission long before he was brought on as co-chair of their Advisory Board.

This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the Eisenhower Commission's tactics, transparency, and truthfulness. I *cannot* wait for the history to be written once we have their internal documents--including regarding the "competition."

by Justin Shubow on Apr 5, 2014 9:04 am • linkreport

In Neil Flanagan's summary of the recent NCPC discussion about the proposed Eisenhower Memorial, it is incorrectly stated that I expressed concern about the Maryland Avenue viewshed. Concerns about viewshed or right-of-way vistas were expressed by others, but not by me.

My primary concern, as I stated both at the April 3rd NCPC meeting and 2-1/2 years ago when the applicant last made a public presentation to NCPC, is the gigantic size and overwhelming ugliness of each of the 10 columns - each 80 feet high and 10 feet in diameter -- that provide support for the tapestries.

I also stated that I personally thought that the proposed tapestries are beautiful, but only if a way can be found to support them with a much less visually prominent, perhaps metallic, support system.

I further commented that the applicant has made progress in addressing two previous concerns I had with earlier versions of this proposed memorial: insufficiently recognizing the accomplishments of the Commanding General of the Allied Forces during World War II and the 34th President of the United States, and the need to activate this urban park with more amenities and green space to attract and enhance the visitor experience.

Robert Miller, Mayoral appointee to NCPC

by Robert Miller on Apr 5, 2014 2:27 pm • linkreport

Maybe someone will buy the movie rights! I think David Alpert had it right when he said...

"Many architecture schools indoctrinate young architects with the notion that their designs must be bold, stand out, challenge orthodoxy, and make a statement, when in truth most buildings really just need to look nice, function well, relate to people on the human scale, and integrate well into the fabric of the city."

Gehry is a prime example of an architect more interested in making heroic gestures than in providing good urban design. It's a hit or miss approach that sometimes produces wonderful urban gestures like Bilbao, but usually ends up as an overscaled sculpture indifferent to its context.

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/2077/reinvent-memorialization-maybe-reinvent-plazas-no/

"The Eisenhower Memorial should function as a plaza and as a memorial. It might be time to reinvent the language of memorials, but we don't need to reinvent plazas. Memorials have changed over the centuries, becoming different but not better or worse, while plazas have generally become worse. The classic European squares with fountains still work best, while plazas are modernism's greatest failure among many. "

This is the fundamental difference between the Vietnam Memorial's context and the Eisenhower memorial's context. On is a poetic moment in a park, while the other tries to re-invent the urban square it sits in, at the expense of the context and the people who would have to sit in this 80' high fenced compound. I'm glad to see this horrible design get the axe regardless of who said what.

by Thayer-D on Apr 5, 2014 2:41 pm • linkreport

Mr. Miller: Thank you taking the time to correct our mistake. We apologize for the misquote, and are trying to figure out who said it.

by Neil Flanagan on Apr 5, 2014 5:22 pm • linkreport

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