Gehry's Eisenhower Memorial plan gets OK from D.C. planning commission

Despite the thumbs up, disputes over costs may keep the $142 million work from ever being built.

July 09, 2015 |
Gehry's Eisenhower Memorial plan gets OK from D.C. planning commission

Rendering: Gehry Partners, LLP

The design for the long-delayed Eisenhower Memorial by famed architect Frank Gehry received final approval from a Washington planning commission on Thursday, though disputes over costs may keep the $142 million work from ever being built.

Planned for years for a spot just off the National Mall, a short walk from the U.S. Capitol, the memorial has been plagued by delays and cost overruns. Congress has cut off construction funds for the project for three years in a row.

The National Capital Planning Commission passed the design by a 10-1 vote on Thursday.

"We think it's good urban design. It's good for the entire Southwest neighborhood," said Mina Wright, a commission member representing the General Services Administration's Office of Planning and Design Quality, who voted in favor of the design.

Despite the vote, funding for the project remains uncertain and faces deep congressional skepticism. Congress has already spent at least $65 million on the memorial. A report by the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee last year described it as a "Five-Star Folly".

The design includes a pair of 80-foot (24-meter) columns and a 447-foot (136-meter) steel mesh tapestry depicting the Kansas plains where the 34th U.S. president and World War Two Allied commander grew up. It is expected to take up 4 acres (1.62 hectares).

Gehry's use of tapestries instead of traditional statuary has drawn the most criticism, especially from Congress and the Eisenhower family. The design approved by the panel scrapped two of the original steel tapestries but kept two supporting columns.

"Congress doesn't want this design. The public doesn't want this design," said Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society, an outspoken critic of the memorial project.

Congress authorized the memorial in 1999 and set a completion date of 2007.

Gehry, 86, is perhaps best known for the dramatic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

(Reporting by Lacey Johnson; Editing by Edward McAllister and Eric Walsh)

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