Dear Mr. Whitesell:
In its meeting of 20 February, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed revisions to the landscape design for the national memorial to President Dwight D. Eisenhower at Independence and Avenues between 4th and 6th Streets, SW, and provided the following comments for the development of the final design of the project.
The Commission members acknowledged the fundamental challenge of the memorial's site design, characterizing it as a tension between two ideas: a memorial within a park versus a park framed by memorial elements. They observed that the design must be developed to balance successfully the memorial's natural and artificial elements that define the unfolding experience of the visitor moving through this large space. They acknowledged the improvements to the design–increasing substantially the number of trees, removing the shaded swales, revising the spatial sequence of the approaches–and commented that the new landscape design, while less ambitious conceptually, would create a more coherent urban space.
While expressing appreciation for the testimony of several representatives of civic groups, the Commission members reaffirmed their support for a landscape definition of the Maryland Avenue axis at a width considerably narrower than the historic right–of–way; they emphasized that the historic development of the avenue requires that it must be considered as typologically different from its graphic analogue in the L'Enfant Plan, Pennsylvania Avenue. They also clarified that the conceptual qualities of frontality and theatricality in the proposed design are not inherently problematic, but that these must be executed in a way that reinforces the symbolic meaning of the memorial as well as the dynamic experience of the visitor.
In their discussion, the Commission members made several recommendations to refine the landscape design as the project moves forward. Noting that ample views will exist below the tree canopy, they discouraged the deliberate framing of views created by the irregular placement of trees along Independence Avenue, and they commented that an even stronger development of the landscape with trees will reinforce the perception of the memorial within a grove–like park. For the paved areas within the memorial site, they questioned the extensive use of limestone, which may not be as durable as the granite used elsewhere; they also questioned the staggered rectangular configuration of the diagonal approaches to the memorial's core, which they found formally assertive in relation to the great Maryland Avenue axis. For the treatment of Maryland Avenue itself, they supported the proposed idea of an open, occupiable greensward framed by substantial trees; they suggested that the reality of heavy pedestrian movement across this long expanse of grass may require the provision of walkways to avoid unintended paths being worn into the turf.
In conclusion, the Commission members found that the landscape design has progressed positively; they also acknowledged the improvements in the design of the small service building near the southeast corner of the site. The Commission looks forward to the review of the next submission, comprising a comprehensive design of the memorial's commemorative features–including sculpture, tapestries, columns, and landscape elements–as they contribute to the overall symbolic program for the memorial. As always, the staff is available to assist you with the next submission.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Steve Whitesell, Regional Director
National Park Service, National Capital Region
1100 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20242
cc: Carl W. Reddel, Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission
Frank Gehry, Gehry Partners
Joe Brown, AECOM