It's been a long and bitter fight, but soon the debate over a controversial design by architect Frank Gehry for a memorial honoring former president and D-Day commander Dwight D. Eisenhower just south of the National Mall may soon be all over.
Congress passed a law authorizing a memorial for Ike back in 1999. But it took 10 years—following a closed competition for designs—to announce the memorial's architect would be the world-renowned Frank Gehry, who designed the famed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, as well as the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago's Millenium Park.
A year later, Gehry's design was released to the public: a memorial made of giant columns and tapestries and including a barefoot young Ike near the center.
Since then, things have quickly unraveled. The family decried Gehry's design, with granddaughter Susan Eisenhower telling the Washingtonian Magazine it looked "like a theme park." The National Civic Art Societybegan asking architects to submit alternate designs to Gehry's. The House Oversight Committee chairman Darrel Issa, R-Calif., said he had questions about the closed process by which Gehry was chosen. And a group of historians, architects and concerned citizens formed to oppose the memorial, calling themselves "Right by Ike."
Now, with the seven-year time limit up to build the memorial (and not an ounce of Earth turned in the effort), Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has introduced legislation to scrap the design and eliminate $100 million in funding. A hearing will be held by the House Natural Resources Committee Tuesday to look at what went wrong.
"Before we provide additional funding, we need an accurate and full account where funds have been appropriated," Bishop's spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin tells Whispers. "We don't have an accurate account of how $62 million was spent."
According to Bishop's office, the Eisenhower Memorial Committee was given $62 million in taxpayer dollars for construction and design of the memorial, as well as $2 million a year since 1999 for staff salaries. The committee declined to comment for this story.
Some architects have come to Gehry's support, including the American Institute of Architects, which told the Associated Press Friday it would "vigorously oppose" Bishop's legislation.
Subbotin insists the group's comments show "this process has become more about the famous architect and having a Gehry piece in Washington, D.C., than the legacy of Eisenhower."
There is likely to be more clarity on Tuesday, with the focus of the hearing expected to be on how and why Gehry was selected. Rep. Issa, who in addition to chairing the House Oversight Committee is a member of theNational Capital Planning Commission, will testify in the hearing about his investigation into the selection process that chose Gehry.
"Any time you see a hearing about something that has been authorized or planned for a long time, it really does represent a major turning point," says Sam Roche, spokesman of Right by Ike and a lecturer at the University of Miami School of Architecture. "The process wasn't public. Typically national memorials are designed by public competition, and anyone can participate. This memorial is the first since that's become standard practice to deviate... And that is a problem."
Rob Firmin, who was co-designer and historian for the recently-unveiled Rosa Parks sculpture, says he and other prominent architects weren't invited to submit their designs—a standard practice for national memorials.