Gehry Eisenhower memorial actually not daring enough?
Earlier this morning I contributed to a group post about the proposed Eisenhower Memorial, designed by starchitect Frank Gehry. While the group piece included many of my thoughts, I wanted to expand upon my personal reactions.
My overall impression of these initial images is that Gehry's design is thoughtful and inoffensive, but also underwhelming. Gehry has always been a better sculptor than architect, and is usually at his best when designing things that aren't traditional buildings, such as the Pritzker Pavilion.
Memorials, unlike traditional work/live buildings, are great opportunities for sculpture, so disappointed to see one of the world's great sculptors essentially punt.
The semi-circular inner plaza element is evocative of the FDR and MLK memorials, with its informal placement of decorated stone blocks. The look is attractive enough, but it's beginning to be a cliche. In my opinion it's the least ambitious part of the memorial, ironic considering it's the focal point.
The cylinders do more than any other element to make the memorial visually striking from a distance, and so are indispensable to the design, but at 80 feet tall and lacking any details whatsoever they will be too bare up close. Like the lackluster inner plaza, the cylinders are a missed opportunity for sculpture. If I were the designer I might go classical, but Gehry could propose something like bareiss columns and that would be just as good.
I also have mixed feelings about the other major element of the memorial, the metal tapestries. I appreciate and agree with the desire to cover up the Education Department building, but to do so with oversized picture panels is a touch contrived, a little too easy. It's like we've taken the tarps that are supposed to hide the parking garages at Nationals Ballpark and turned them into a monument. It's a difficult problem, but is that *really* the best we can do?
Gehry deserves credit for restraining himself from retreading his own familiar shtick. Another mass of crumbled titanium would have been inappropriate; it would be memorial to Gehry himself more so than Eisenhower. But at the same time I have to say I'm disappointed that there's nothing daring in this proposal. Such rare opportunities for artful civic sculpture shouldn't be ignored. This memorial could be worse, but it could also be a lot better.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
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