U.S. panel weighs new designs for troubled Eisenhower Memorial

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 17, 2014 1:58 PM

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The troubled Eisenhower Memorial reaches a crossroads on Wednesday as the panel overseeing its construction weighs alternatives to the original contentious design by celebrity architect Frank Gehry.

The memorial to the 34th U.S. president and World War Two Allied commander has been on the drawing board for 15 years. The proposed monument at the base of Capitol Hill has already cost taxpayers $41 million with no design in place, plagued by rising costs and delays.

Seeking a way out of the impasse and under fire from Congress, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission meets on Wednesday and could decided between two alternatives to Gehry's original design.

The design that the panel accepted in 2009 for the 4-acre site featured 80-foot-tall columns supporting stainless steel mesh tapestries depicting Eisenhower's boyhood state, Kansas.

But a planning board rejected the design in April amid criticism that the design was too big and blocked views of the Capitol.

Gehry, known for such buildings as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, this month came back with a stripped-down version that eliminated two of the tapestries and two of the 10 original columns.

Eisenhower panel member U.S. Representative Darrell Issa, who heads a congressional committee with oversight of the District of Columbia, is proposing a second alternative that would do away with all the tapestries and columns. Only a core element of statues and other sculptures would be left.

Retired Air Force Brigadier General Carl Reddel, the Eisenhower commission's executive director, told panelists in a letter this week that Gehry would remove his name from a project that lacks the tapestries and columns.

The Eisenhower family has long opposed Gehry's design. Anne and Susan Eisenhower, the president's granddaughters, told the commission this week that the family backed either Issa's proposal with the core elements alone or a complete redesign with an open competition.

Congress twice has cut off construction funding for the Eisenhower Memorial, and a report by a congressional committee in July called it a "five-star folly."

In a city packed with monuments and government buildings, the Eisenhower site is roughly the size of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial and would be among Washington's biggest monuments.

The Eisenhower Memorial also is seen as a key element in reviving a lackluster urban area next to the National Mall, a tourist mecca.

(Editing by Susan Heavey)