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Remember Ike
Gehry's design for Eisenhower Memorial unveiled
The memorial includes a central grove of oak trees, limestone columns, and stainless-steel tapestries displaying scenes from Ike's life.
Courtesy Eisenhower Memorial Commission

Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower, the U.S. president who commanded allied forces in Europe during World War II and built the nation’s interstate highway system, is one step closer to getting a long-awaited tribute. On March 25, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission (EMC) unveiled Frank Gehry’s design of the 34th president’s monument, set around a wooded open space in the heart of Washington, D.C. next door to the National Air and Space Museum.

In April 2009, the EMC and the General Services Administration (GSA) selected Gehry Partners’ concept after a three-stage competition conducted under the GSA’s design excellence program. Other firms that submitted schemes included Krueck & Sexton of Chicago, PWP Landscape Architecture of Berkeley, California, and Rogers Marvel Architects of New York.

The memorial is carefully sited to preserve a view corridor to the Capitol.

Located on four acres at the base of Capitol Hill, on Independence Ave. between 4th and 6th streets SW, Gehry’s design establishes a contemplative space that nods to traditional presidential monument design while at the same time paving new ground. Thirteen massive limestone columns enclose the site in an homage to the neoclassical Jefferson and Lincoln memorials. At the center of these stands a grove of oak trees through which visitors will walk to view presentations on Eisenhower’s many accomplishments. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the design is a series of massive woven stainless-steel tapestries that hang from the colonnade. The tapestries will depict scenes from Ike’s life on a grand scale. Gehry Partners also carefully arranged the memorial’s elements so as to preserve the view corridor along Maryland Ave. to the Capitol.

“The approach to the design was to create a cohesive and important civic space and urban monument in the heart of the capital region that provides a quiet and contemplative space for learning about the vast accomplishments of President Eisenhower,” Gehry said in a statement. “He was a masterful but modest leader. My aim was to capture that spirit with the design.”

The monumental stainless-steel tapestries help to screen the adjacent National air and space museum.

The Eisenhower Memorial will be the first presidential tribute constructed in the 21st century and only the seventh in U.S. history. The last such monument was built in honor of Franklin D. Roosevelt and opened in 1997. EMC was formed by Congress in 1999 and includes Eisenhower’s grandson David Eisenhower among its 12 commissioners.

Last October, President Obama signed a congressional appropriations bill that included $19 million for the project, securing funding for the completion of the design. In January, Gehry and the Gilbane Building Company signed a design contract with the GSA. In all, the project is expected to cost between $90 million and $120 million, and completion is expected within five years.

Aaron Seward