Dwight D. Eisenhower National Memorial
Intersection of Maryland and Independence Avenues, between 4th and 6th Streets, SW
Dear Ms. O'Dell:
In its meeting of 20 January, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the concept submission from the National Park Service for the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Memorial at Independence and Maryland Avenues between 4th and 6th Streets, SW. The Commission expressed overall support for the proposal and, following extensive discussion of the design features, approved the preferred alternative (option 3) with suggestions for further study.
The Commission members endorsed the proposed combination of large-scale gestures to capture the overall site and, toward the center of the site, a memorial precinct that focuses on the commemoration of Eisenhower. They expressed strong support for the proposed rows of colossal columns, agreeing that the great scale and abstract form of the columns—reminiscent of the grain silos near Eisenhower's boyhood home—would be effective in framing the site, and would also create a beautifully defined space along the Department of Education headquarters building on the south; overall, they commented that the memorial design would enhance rather than detract from the Education building.
However, the Commission members questioned the presence and character of the proposed metal tapestries to be supported by the columns, including the primary tapestry spanning roughly 540 feet across the south edge of the site depicting a landscape photograph of Eisenhower's boyhood home. They observed that the immense display of a photographic image is more typically associated with commercial advertising as seen on billboards, rather than with a dignified memorial; they recommended engaging an artist to create an original image as an iconic element of the presidential memorial. Despite their reservations, they commented that the choice of a landscape image is the most successful at the scale and proportion of the primary tapestry, suggesting an evocative quality for the entire site while subtly referring to Eisenhower as the subject of the memorial. Acknowledging that the details of this novel construction concept are still being developed, they recommended that the appearance of the structural support system for the tapestries be as simple as possible to avoid detracting from the formal purity of the columns and from the tapestry image itself.
To address these concerns, the Commission members emphasized the need for careful study of the technical details of the tapestries such as the size of the weave, the support system, and the long-term maintenance issues. They strongly suggested consideration of eliminating the tapestries altogether—relying instead on the unexpectedly successful strategy of using the colossal columns to both define the urban space and establish the character of the memorial itself. Even if the large tapestry remains, they recommended eliminating the two smaller tapestries along Independence Avenue to avoid distraction from the design's major gestures; they also recommended adding more columns along Independence Avenue to reinforce the definition of the site.
In support of the overall concept for treating the site as an urban space containing a focused memorial precinct, the Commission members expressed a clear preference for the approach of filling the surrounding space with trees; they suggested a refinement of the pattern of trees, such as a grid across the site as illustrated in options 1 and 2. They noted the importance of providing shade within the large site and urged consideration of the landscape's appearance before the trees have reached their mature size. The Commission members supported the framing of the memorial's central precinct with flanking walls representing Eisenhower's military and civilian achievements; they recommended further study of the elements in this area, including the possible development of a freestanding sculpture of Eisenhower instead of the proposed bas-relief panels. They also suggested that the design more strongly acknowledge the diagonal alignment of the Maryland Avenue corridor, which they said could be more deliberately related to the central commemorative precinct. They supported the consolidation of all ancillary functions in a single structure located in the southeast portion of the site.
In summary, the Commission members complimented the design team for its progress on the memorial proposal since the information presentation in May 2010, noting the improvements to make this national memorial more dignified, subtle, and focused. Citing Eisenhower's extraordinary leadership and strengths, they encouraged that these qualities be expressed in the memorial design as a lasting inspiration to future generations. As always, the staff is available to assist you with the next submission as the concept is developed.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, AIA
Margaret O'Dell, Regional Director
National Park Service, National Capital Region
1100 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20242
cc: Peter May, National Park Service
Brig. Gen. Carl W. Reddel, Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission
Frank Gehry, Gehry Partners
Joe Brown, AECOM