Category Archives: Architecture

David Brooks on Authority and Memorials

I think the New York Times columnist gets a lot wrong in the piece he published yesterday about the Eisenhower Memorial. I agree with him that Americans have a hard time with authority, with acknowledging and honoring greatness and with the dynamics and paradoxes of power. But I think the strength of Frank Gehry’s design for a monument to the 34th President of the United States is precisely its suppleness in dealing with these issues. My real beef with Brooks op-ed is that it doesn’t seem like he did much homework before writing it. My take here.

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Eisenhower Update

There’s yet more action. The desire of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to see models and meet with the Eisenhower family and architect Frank Gehry has effectively put a stop (temporary, one hopes) to the approvals process for the memorial. There are a lot of unknowns, whether the Eisenhowers are using political pressure on the Obama administration (denied by Susan Eisenhower and Salazar’s office), or if Salazar is merely trying to be a peace maker, or is worried about this coming back to bite him and the National Park Service if everything isn’t smoothed out now. In any case, the usual judgements apply: The Eisenhower Family is being accorded undue influence over a public memorial; the process so far has included a competition conducted according to established and respected government rules; it has already received unanimous approval by the bi-partisan Eisenhower Memorial Commission (including early on grandson David Eisenhower), and enthusiastic preliminary approval from the Commission of Fine Arts. The Eisenhowers will likely try to grind down Gehry, delaying the process and demanding the evisceration of one of the most interesting, innovative and exciting memorial designs since Maya Lin gave us the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Washington is so predictable.

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Rep. Issa urges a delay

The Eisenhower Memorial saga continues, with Rep. Darrell Issa urging the Eisenhower Memorial Commission to delay going before the National Capital Planning Commission this summer. He wants documents pertinent to the process that led to Frank Gehry’s selection as architect. So he’s written a letter to the EMC, which has a certain force given that Issa holds an ex-officio seat on the NCPC. Delay at all costs seems to be the current strategy of memorial opponents.

 

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Eisenhower Memorial Update

The Eisenhower grandchildren gave their official response to the latest round of design changes to the proposed Eisenhower Memorial, which came from Frank Gehry’s office earlier this month. It’s distressing to see Interior Secretary Ken Salazar call for slowing the process down, which is exactly what the Eisenhower family wants. It’s distressing to see the Obama administration put the 34th President’s grandchildren in the position of vetoing the work of one of this country’s greatest architects. But the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, and Gehry, have been¬†¬†very gentlemanly about this process, rising above Susan Eisenhower’s invocation of Hitler’s death camps and Stalinist design in an effort to tarnish Gehry’s work. And they are once again attempting to address the family’s concerns and move the process forward. That probably sets a bad precedent in the future for empowering distant family members to determine the shape of what should be public monuments and memorials. But it is the well-mannered thing to do and is no doubt the politically expedient course of action. We’ll see if it works.

Credit: Image courtesy of Gehry Parterns, LLP, May 2012

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The Barnes Foundation

This story got lost in the Sunday mix (even I had a hard time finding it and I know how to search). But I reviewed the new building and installation of the Barnes Foundation collection in today’s Sunday Post. I think the new facility is beautifully done, even with the pall of controversy that hangs over the entire project. Here.

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Frank Gehry

I spent a good chunk of April working on a magazine story about Frank Gehry and the design for the Eisenhower Memorial. It’s finally seen the light of day, in the Washington Post Magazine.

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Rallying behind Gehry

What a difference a week makes. On March 20, at a Congressional hearing, it looked as if the controversy whipped up by Susan and Anne Eisenhower, and further fueled by the dogged work of a small anti-Gehry group (the National Civic Art Society, which is pretty much anti-everything of or derived from the modernist tradition) might seriously caused headaches for the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. The commission’s executive director conceded during the question period that there was not “consensus” among the commissioners, who once numbered David Eisenhower among their members, until his enigmatic resignation in December last year. A week later and the commission has come to consensus again. They stand firmly behind Gehry and his design, according to a letter released yesterday. I blogged it for the Post’s Style blog.

What changed? I wonder if it was the tone of Susan Eisenhower’s commentary, or the general sense that the memorial’s opponents were throwing everything and the kitchen sink at Gehry. Invoking Marx, Lenin, Engels, Mao, Ho Chi Minh and Hitler sounded odd and perhaps a bit unseemly.

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