Dwight D. Eisenhower may never have seen a paved road in his youth, but he will soon be honored with some very progressive architecture. On October 29, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission announced seven finalists to design the National Eisenhower Memorial, to be built on an underused plaza along Washington’s Independence Avenue, southwest of the Capitol Building. The memorial would make him the 16th president to be recognized with a monument in Washington.
The finalists include Frank Gehry, Stanley Saitowitz, Peter Walker, Moshe Safdie, Rogers Marvel Architects, Ralph Johnson of Perkins + Will, and Ron Krueck of Chicago’s Krueck and Sexton Architects. The finalists will now go through an interview process in December before the winner is announced in March.
Maya Lin aside, Washington has a propensity for classical and conservative memorial architecture, and so the list is noteworthy for the contemporary style that dominates each of the finalists’ work. “I didn’t see a lot of expectations of pediments and columns on that list, and that’s exciting,” said Rob Rogers of Rogers Marvel.
Daniel Feil, the project’s executive architect at the commission, said the emphasis on contemporary design was intentional. “We have talked with the [Eisenhower] family, and they viewed their grandfather as very progressive and see his legacy being represented by contemporary design as being appropriate,” he said.
None of the finalists have presented designs, and most likely won’t before the winner is selected. “I haven’t really thought of it,” said Saitowitz.
The commission’s charge includes the development of a “living memorial” component as well as the physical structure, with web content and downloadable audio programs to be developed and maintained by the National Park Service. “The model we’re thinking about is, we provide the information, you provide the equipment, be it BlackBerry, cell phone, or iPod,” Feil said.
The commission, a private organization, has been working on plans for the four-acre site across from the Air and Space Museum and north of the Department of Education, since it was approved in 2005.
The memorial would potentially shut off a block of Maryland Avenue, which runs at a diagonal southwest from Capitol Hill, a possibility that worries members of the National Commission to Save Our Mall. “Maryland Avenue is the southern counterpart to Pennsylvania Avenue,” said the group’s chair, Judy Feldman. “Future revitalization of historic Maryland Avenue will open enormous opportunities for the whole Southwest area of the city, and the memorial design should recognize that and not be allowed to close it off.”
Feldman also raised concern about the decision to place the Eisenhower Memorial at the eastern end of the Mall, far away from the monuments to other presidents. “The bigger question here is about the memorial-making process. Washington was designed as a city that tells the American story,” she said. “We are haphazardly locating monuments all over the place. There is no continuity, no story that unfolds. We are losing and muddying the story.”
But Feil said the location between the Air and Space Museum and the Department of Education was appropriate, given that Eisenhower created NASA—which is celebrated at the Air and Space Museum—and oversaw federal enforcement of school desegregation efforts after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision.