Dear Mr. Whitesell:
In its meeting of 21 November, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed proposed revisions to the approved concept design for the landscape and site elements of the national memorial to President Dwight D. Eisenhower at Independence and Maryland Avenues between 4th and 6th Streets, SW, providing the following comments concerning the refinement of the site design as the project is further developed.
The Commission reaffirmed its support for many aspects of this important national project and emphasized its continuing support for the creation of a memorial that is modern in character as an appropriate means of honoring Eisenhower's many achievements as general and president in the mid–20th century. The Commission members also continued to express admiration for the artistic vision of the memorial, particularly for the monumental stainless steel tapestries, which they characterized as beautiful. However, they raised strong concerns about the lack of conceptual clarity in the site design, identifying an apparent disengagement between the design of the colossal columns and tapestries–featuring images of an abstracted prairie landscape–and the landscape of the memorial itself. Noting that the iconic Great Plains landscape of Eisenhower's childhood is used as a central metaphor for the memorial as a whole, they found the actual landscape design to be underdeveloped and cryptic, with isolated tall grass swales intended to evoke the prairie relegated to the margins of the site. Instead, they recommended pursuing a bolder and more unified conception of the landscape, perhaps making deliberate use of understory and canopy trees to frame more emphatically the primary experience of a grassland within the site. They strongly recommended a closer collaboration between architect and landscape architect in order to achieve the necessary conceptual clarity for the memorial overall.
The Commission members observed what they characterized as a partially developed quality of frontality and theatricality in the design, which is composed of a series of flat diaphanous planes and sculptural tableaux oriented to a favored view experienced from the north, noting that most visitors will reach the site from many other directions. They continued to question the columns and panels on the east and west, which may contribute to the impression of approaching the memorial from behind and compromise the concept of the tapestries as a backdrop. Whether developing further the experience of frontality or not, they recommended that the underlying concept for the overall design be clarified in its public place–making within this extensive site through elements of enclosure such as trees. If the concept of defining the memorial precinct principally with monumental columns and screens is pursued further, the burden is upon a compelling landscape design to reinforce more clearly the conceptual intent. They advised treating the perimeter roadways as urban streets lined by regularly spaced rows of trees, commenting that the proposed intermittent placement of trees along Independence Avenue may undermine the experience of the memorial as a defined precinct. They reiterated their concerns about how the composition of columns is seen along Independence Avenue, but clarified that this is a conceptual issue of the design rather than a concern about transgressing what is actually an irregular line of building fronts along the avenue. While they acknowledged the importance of celebrating the Maryland Avenue axis and view to the U.S. Capitol, they also found that the proposed treatment of this diagonal swath lacks a strong conceptual connection with the landscape design for the memorial. Finally, the Commission members commented that the area of service structures at the southeast corner of the site was needlessly complex, with a small storage shed now added to the composition; they recommended a more careful arrangement of these elements.
In conclusion, the Commission looks forward to the development of this memorial as it progresses toward a final design that is unified in its conception of architecture, landscape, and sculpture as contributing to Washington's larger commemorative landscape. 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: Peter May, National Park Service
Carl W. Reddel, Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission
Frank Gehry, Gehry Partners
Joe Brown, AECOM