There's a whole new world under that rock.
A prominent family, a famous architect, and Washington’s historic cityscape are at the center of a controversy over the proposed Eisenhower memorial. The commission that selected Frank Gehry’s design concept did so despite objections from the Eisenhower family and other vocal critics of the proposal. Yet every major monument in Washington, including the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, faced harsh critics initially. We explore the renewed debate over how we memorialize great Americans in the nation’s capital.
- Roger Lewis Architect; Columnist, "Shaping the City," Washington Post; and Professor Emeritus of Architecture, University of Maryland College Park
- Susan Eisenhower President of the Eisenhower Group, Inc; Chairman, Leadership and Public Policy Programs, Eisenhower Institute
- Carl Reddel Executive Director, Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission; Ret. Brig. Gen. with the USAF.
Architect Frank Gehry speaks to the National Capital Planning Commission on his design team’s direction for the Eisenhower memorial design in 2010:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. The beloved Lincoln Memorial, critics at the time hated it. They said a seated Lincoln looked like a tired leader. The regal Jefferson Memorial, the design was ridiculed when it was first built. Memorials in Washington are nothing if not controversial, including the Martin Luther King Memorial that opened last year.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe latest in that line is the Eisenhower Memorial design proposed by the internationally acclaimed architect Frank Gehry. The design is monumental in scale. The memorial would stand 80 feet high on a prominent site just off the Mall. Columns would support large metal scrims depicting Eisenhower's rural childhood in Kansas. Critics, including the Eisenhower family, feel it's too big and focuses on the young boy rather than Eisenhower's many accomplishments.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIDespite objections, the federal commission, appointed to oversee the project, this week decided to go forward with the design, reopening the debate over how we memorialize great Americans in the nation's capital and elsewhere and who should have a say in those decisions. Joining us in studio is Susan Eisenhower, president of the Eisenhower Group, Inc. and chairman emeritus of the Eisenhower Institute. The Eisenhower Group provides strategic counsel on political business and public affairs projects. Susan Eisenhower, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. SUSAN EISENHOWERGreat to be with you.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us -- you know him -- Roger Lewis is an architect and the "Shaping the City" columnist with The Washington Post. He's also professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland, College Park. Roger, always a pleasure.
MR. ROGER LEWISAnd always a pleasure for me. Thank you.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Have you seen the design concept for the Eisenhower Memorial by architect Frank Gehry? What do you think? 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask a question or make a comment there. Roger, let's start with the design that has been proposed for the memorial. What would it look like?
LEWISWell, the latest version involves these 11-foot diameter, 80-foot tall cylindrical columns that march along the south edge of the site, adjacent to the Lyndon Johnson Education Building. Between those columns are metal scrims or tapestries, if you will, that -- on which is to be inscribed a gigantic image of what is apparently a landscape that represents Kansas. There are trees and essentially a horizontal line as you might guess representing Kansas. And then there's in the space -- and we should say it's a very large space. It's about four acres, the size of four football fields.
LEWISWithin this space will be real trees and then a number of interpretive elements that -- and I don't remember at the moment exactly where they're deployed.
NNAMDIBut it's essentially a four-acre site in which I've -- as I've characterized it, a kind of fence is being built around the perimeter and creating a kind of stage -- a gigantic stage set or a great room that -- I likened it once in one of my columns to creating a wireframe diagram of a large building, partly, I think, motivated by the fact that the site is surrounded by some very large buildings, including, to the immediate north, across Independence Avenue, the Air and Space Museum.
NNAMDIWhere would the memorial -- and you mention just the Air and Space Museum, so people would have a sense of where it's going to be located. How was that site selected?
LEWISWell, my understanding is that -- and I'm involved in site selection myself in another project. Under the Commemorative Works Act the Congress passed for creating memorials and museums in -- on federal land in Washington, once you have authorization to build a memorial, you sit down, and you look for sites with the Park Service and anyone else in the federal government who has land available. GSA might have been involved. And I assume at some point -- I wasn't involved in this at all. I assume at some point this site, which has never been a wonderful urban space, it's a little bit -- it had its problems.
LEWISI assume this site came to the top of the pile, and everybody said, gee, this is well-located. You can see the Capitol from this site. It's a very large site. We think large is better than not so large. And I assume that all of the powers that be, if you will, decided this would be a good place for it. It's not on the Mall. It's -- or it's not in that space that we think of as the Mall. It is essentially one more block south of the Mall. That is, between the Mall and this site is the Air and Space Museum.
NNAMDISusan Eisenhower, you are Dwight Eisenhower's granddaughter. Last week, you testified before a House panel on the memorial. What are your family's feelings on the Gehry design?
EISENHOWERWell, I think we've got obvious concerns. I articulated them last week. I think let's start with the concept, which is the most important thing in many ways. We have a large scene of Kansas. We're very proud of our Kansas roots. But, having said that, it places the memorial to Eisenhower in the context of his upbringing rather than his accomplishments. We don't put Lincoln in a log cabin and talk about Illinois.
EISENHOWERWe don't place Jefferson in Virginia. We don't place Washington in Virginia for that matter. And so, you know, these accomplishments are important because they're the reason he's been designated to have a memorial in the first place. So I think the real challenge is for us to figure out, you know, what that one line that articulates the reason Eisenhower is -- has been selected for a memorial -- I'm sorry.
NNAMDIGo ahead, please.
EISENHOWERNo, no. I just was going to say that Lincoln saved the Union. Actually, Christopher Columbus found a New World. We need that kind of a line. And my favorite I've heard so far is that he led the free world against tyranny. That relates to both his World War II accomplishment and the period during the Cold War.
NNAMDIThis week, the federal commission working on the Eisenhower Memorial decided to go ahead anyway with the Gehry design. How has the family been involved in the process?
EISENHOWERWell, we have made our concerns known all along. We had no idea that things were moving so quickly. It -- in July of 2011, the chairman of the commission said that the design was still evolving, and my brother, who was a commissioner at the time, had to come back and consult with the family because he was really our representative there. As we began to look into this, we had increasing concerns about the metal scrims.
EISENHOWERThey look very, very hard to maintain, especially at the higher floors. These are going to be 80 feet in height. And the more we looked into it and the more we began to consult with outside experts, architects, lawyers and other things, we began to realize that we had to make our concerns known. We did it first privately, I have to tell you. But when we were not successful in convincing commissioners, then we felt that it was our responsibility to open up a public debate.
NNAMDIAnd your brother David resigned from the commission presumably for that reason.
EISENHOWERWell, he resigned from the commission because he has taken on a new family responsibility. I have an older sister in New York who is a designer. So my father, John Eisenhower, who's executor of my grandfather's will and his only heir, designated my sister Anne in New York, who's a designer, as I say, and me because I'm a Washingtonian, and I know the political scene. And so we have been designated by our family to carry forward our end of the debate.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking about memorials in the capital in general and the Eisenhower Memorial in particular. Our guest, Susan Eisenhower, is president of the Eisenhower Group, Inc. and chairman emeritus of the Eisenhower Institute. Also with us is Roger Lewis. He's an architect and the "Shaping the City" columnist with The Washington Post and professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland, College Park.
NNAMDIJoining us now by telephone is Carl Reddel. He is the executive director of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Commission and a retired Air Force brigadier general. Carl Reddel, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. CARL REDDELWell, I'm happy to be with you.
NNAMDIYou have said that the media have gotten information wrong on this. What would you like to correct?
REDDELWell, if we have some misinformation in the media, it's probably related to some of the specifics of the design and some of the images which have been selected, and that may be a function of people just not getting in the archives or finding out what has changed since the very first representations of the memorial came forward. So as a result of that, why different pieces of information have been shared and, for example, the phrase the barefoot boy became a dominant depiction of Eisenhower in the media.
REDDELAnd Frank Gehry has never presented a barefoot boy in that depiction. In fact, the commission has yet to decide in final terms on what the preferred images are, although the designers come up with some leading candidates.
NNAMDIWell, you are aware of some of the criticisms that the design is too big, that it focuses on Eisenhower's Kansas childhood rather than his adult accomplishments for which he is better known. What was the commission's original vision for this memorial?
REDDELWell, the original vision was actually dictated by the law which created the commission. The original vision was set forth in law and still is the case and has been the dominant dimension of what the memorial itself is about. The memorial itself is to celebrate the 34th president of the United States and the supreme Allied commander in World War II. And that has not changed. So, from the very beginning, that has been the, by law, focus of the memorial.
NNAMDIOne of the challenges of memorializing a man like President Eisenhower is the sheer range of his accomplishments in so many areas. He even had a role in creating the School of Public Service right here at American University where our station's -- where our station broadcasts. Why then did you decide to focus to some extent on his childhood in Kansas?
REDDELWhile the focus on the childhood in Kansas is part of the context of the origins of the man, the motivations in his life and harking back to Eisenhower himself, his own view of himself, I believe the designer of the memorial was very taken with Eisenhower's first sentence in his speech when he returned to Kansas in 1945 when Eisenhower said that no man is truly a man who is left out of himself the dreams of a barefoot boy.
REDDELThat was inspiring to the memorial designer as a way to integrate the diverse achievements of this great man, both as general, as president. People sometimes forget that he was the president of Columbia University, that he was the first NATO commander. And, yes, he did inspire the School of International Service at American University.
NNAMDIThe commission voted on Tuesday to move ahead with the Frank Gehry design. Some critics say that this will be the first memorial built without the support of the president's family. Critics note that in the 1960s the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial was opposed by the Roosevelt family, and the memorial's architects resigned their commission. Why did the commission decide to go ahead with this memorial?
REDDELWell, the commission has been involved in the very deliberative, painstaking process for over 11 years, so it -- this process has been a complicated one, as your commentators and others have suggested, which it truly is. But, probably for a good reason, to make sure the people do their homework -- they work hard -- the commission looked at 26 alternative sites before it came to conclude that the present site was the right one.
REDDELThat site, by the way, its size and everything is part of the recommendation of the National Capital Planning Commission in its memorials and museums master plan as the number three best site for a great memorial. Commission chose it because it's surrounded by institutions that Eisenhower had a direct role in creating. So that was pretty powerful. Once it went through this rather laborious process to review those 26 sites -- and it did that with participation of the Eisenhower family -- those sites then finally resulted in that site.
REDDELBut after that, it was seeking a design talent that could live up to the challenge of the complex memorialization. So that then proceeded through time, through a competitive process to bring us to where we are today. But the commission had spent 11 years on this and been working, you know, systematically on the problem of what is the best memorial.
NNAMDIThere's been interest and questions on the part of Congress in this design decision. There was an oversight hearing in the House this last week and earlier this month. Congressman Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee, asked for documents related to the design competition for this memorial. What are some of the concerns that have been raised and the -- what was the selection process that the committee was involved in for this?
REDDELYeah, questions have been raised about the selection process, and the commission was very conscious at the beginning of the limits of its own staff size. And it chose to go with a tried and proven design selection process, the Design Excellence Program, which is used for the design and construction of federal buildings throughout the United States. So it went to GSA and asked GSA to manage that process, which GSA then did. And so GSA managed the process of the selection of a designer.
NNAMDIWell, some have argued that the process, despite the fact that you say we've been working on this for 11 years, is nevertheless being rushed, that this memorial will be a permanent monument in Washington. Why not more time to consider the design given the nature of the criticism, especially from the family?
REDDELWell, the design has not been finally approved yet at this point. The design, however, has been continuing to progress over the past 11 years. The design itself is really more a function of the last two years. Over the last two years, why, there have been more than 20 public meetings dealing with the design process itself. The designers integrated many of these comments into his refinements of the design.
REDDELHe's continuing to integrate ideas and thoughts and -- to benefit from an inclusive approach, the commission, even though it has decided that it wants to continue to move forward with the work it's been doing over the past 11 years, has nonetheless asked Mr. Gehry to keep the door open to continuing inputs from a wide range of people and, of course, including the Eisenhower family from which the commission has benefited a great deal. In fact, one of the leading lengthy excerpts to be engraved on stone near the heroic size images of the general is a direct recommendation of David Eisenhower.
NNAMDICarl Reddel, thank you for joining us.
REDDELYou're welcome. It was a pleasure to be with you, Kojo.
NNAMDICarl Reddel is the executive director of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Commission and a retired Air Force general. And I guess, before we can go into break, I should say, well, it ain't over till it's over. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on memorials in the capital and the design of the Eisenhower memorial in particular. Roger Lewis joins us in studio on a regular basis. He is an architect and the "Shaping the City" columnist with The Washington Post and professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland, College Park. Joining us in studio today is Susan Eisenhower, president of the Eisenhower Group, Inc. and chairman emeritus of the Eisenhower Institute.
NNAMDIShe is the granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. We mentioned, Susan Eisenhower, that this is the first time a memorial is going to be built over the objections of the family. Care to comment on that?
EISENHOWERWell, you know, Carl Reddel is absolutely correct that the memorial has evolved over the course of these 11 years. Actually, the concept only changed just last year. So our family objections came as a direct result of that change in concept. I think the most disturbing thing, Kojo, is the characterization in the press that my family is not united. Actually, we're absolutely united on this, and listeners could go to my website -- it's susaneisenhower.com -- to see my brother's statement about his support for the possibility of a redesign.
EISENHOWERI think all of us are concerned that, you know, the statement that was made by the commission this week about going forward -- and it calls for the family to be engaged in a process that really shows very little flexibility -- they're very strong in the statement about how they endorse both the concept and the memorial elements 100 percent, enthusiastic support. And so it's not clear to us what contribution we can make now. We're still in family consultation on this point, but I just thought that was worth mentioning.
NNAMDITo some of the specifics, as to the statue showing your grandfather as a boy, some of the members of the commission say the idea is that millions of children visit the Air and Space Museum across the street, and they may very well be inspired by the story of a boy from Abilene, Texas, who became the supreme allied commander and president of the United States. Does that make the concept more appealing to you?
EISENHOWERWell, I have kid tested this. I've got two grandsons who are school age, and they're actually interested in being superheroes. They're not very interested in other kids at Halloween time or when it's time to dress up and go out and do something really heroic. I think kids are struck by heroism, which is one reason the Lincoln Memorial is so popular is because it's awesome, and that's what kids aspire to, not to be another one their age.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation. Do you think a memorial that's controversial right now might later be celebrated? 800-433-8850. Roger, I'm interested in some of your own impressions of the -- not only the memorial but of the controversy surrounding.
LEWISWell, I think I completely share the Eisenhower family's concerns, and I -- let me just point out a couple of things about the -- that Carl Reddel referred to and that I've written about on The Post. I actually have no problem with the notion of putting the memorial in that location. I think, however, the first problem, I think, is just the size of it.
LEWISThe decision that was made early on to take that site and make the entire four acres the Eisenhower Memorial naturally invites the designer, any designer to say, well, I want to -- I've got to come up with something that encompasses and controls and regulates the entire site. They could've said -- and I say they -- I'm talking about the authorities in Washington who ultimately agreed to give the commissioner the site -- that the site should be an urban park, an urban garden, whatever, in which there could be and should be the Eisenhower Memorial.
LEWISSo that addresses the problem of size and scope. And I think I have no problem with the issue of -- the issues that have been raised about its style. I don't think it has to be neoclassical. I have no problem with having Frank Gehry design it. He's capable of doing very interesting work. Not all of it is great. I -- but I've seen enough it to know what his capabilities are. And I'm mentioning this because there've been so many critiques coming from different directions about the design per se.
LEWISI'd like to see it -- I'd like to see Gary -- what Gary would do if the commission said, look, we're going to have a four-acre urban space here. We want that design, but let's take the Eisenhower Memorial -- recognize the power of symbolism. We don't have to tell everything there is or create a narrative that really belongs in a museum. Instead, take an acre or half an acre and do some wonderful thing that doesn't create this, in essence, great room in the middle of the space.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from John, who says, "The problem with the Ike memorial is it's too busy and too representational. Why are new monuments so obsessed with making a narrative?"
LEWISWell, that's a very good question. Susan and I were talking earlier about the power of the Washington Monument. It's -- you know, it's an obelisk, which is, of course, a universal and a very ancient symbol. You don't go up to the Washington Monument and look for 8,000 words inscribed on the bottom that tell the story of George Washington. It's symbolic. It's -- and I think the power of that -- of the same really is true of the Vietnam Memorial.
LEWISI mean, it's -- notwithstanding the thousands of names on it. As a gesture, as an architectural and landscape gesture, it's extremely powerful. It does not require 10 acres. I mean, the other problem I'm having with this one and a lot of other memorials is that we're eating up too much of the landscape of the Mall and the spaces around the Mall. We -- you don't have to be big to be impressive, to be inspiring.
NNAMDISusan, how do you feel about the notion of symbol versus, in this case, narrative?
EISENHOWERWell, I'd like the idea of symbolism. I think that many memorials today are attempting to take the place of museums. We should get kids back into museums and then, you know, have memorials serve the purpose of, you know, marking the contribution of an individual to his country. I think it's important, too, that we have a debate about these things at the moment. I think this is a very healthy process that's underway here because this will be America's memorial.
EISENHOWERAnd so a memorial has to, therefore, speak to all Americans, which is back to the reason we've got a concern about the concept. Eisenhower desegregated Washington, D.C. in 1953 and went on to lay the groundwork for civil rights. And this memorial has to mean as much to the African-American community, for instance, as it does to rural youth. I think, also, it's got to say something to Cold War refugees and to victims of the Holocaust. It's got to say a lot to the veterans of our country.
EISENHOWERAnd so symbolism actually aids in that process, enables people to bring something of themselves to the memorial when they come.
NNAMDIYou actually had a conversation with Frank Gehry about this. And what were his feelings about your point of view?
EISENHOWERHe seemed very receptive but was never willing to really follow-up. We had spoken to him about our concerns about the metal scrims. We spoke to him about our concern about the -- OK, maybe the boy isn't barefoot, but we're told that it's only going to be a difference between being 10 years old or 17. It's still the same problem. And I spoke to him in a very passionate way about finding that one line that describes why the nation is grateful. He's a very good listener, but, unfortunately, it appears that not much came out of the meeting.
NNAMDIAnd you apparently inferred during that conversation that he made it clear that he wasn't working for you.
EISENHOWEROh, no. I'm the one that likes to remind people. They keep saying that the family has to meet with Gehry, but we don't have any authority to get the architect to change his mind. In fact, the Memorial Commission is his client. And so, I guess, it's up to us to try and influence as best we can the Memorial Commission.
NNAMDIRoger, we've mentioned the commission several times, spoke with one of the members. What's the process for getting a new memorial approved and built in Washington?
LEWISWell, the -- being involved in this right now, I'm a trustee of the Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation. We have bills in Congress, as we speak, that are going through to merely authorize it. They're blessings. All they do is say, we think this is a good idea -- no federal money, bipartisan. I mean, I think most memorials are financed privately by -- through contributions, not by the federal government. So it's -- if you -- the National Capital Planning Commission has a detailed list. I think there are 24 steps. The authorization is about the first eight steps.
LEWISThen comes the hard part -- raising the money, et cetera. It's a very involved process, which I'm very familiar with having -- in going through it. I think that -- I think what I wanted to add earlier, though, is there's -- right now, there's a momentum problem. There's been a tremendous investment in this scheme. It's gone through Commission of Fine Arts. They had given it preliminary OK.
LEWISAnd I -- being an architect, now, I've been in the situation where you go down the road and you get invested in it, you fall in love with it. And I think what we have here is a situation where there is this design that they're invested in. They -- the commission and Frank Gehry and perhaps the Commission of Fine Arts and others -- and to back off of that in a way maybe means losing a little bit of face or perhaps acknowledging that it wasn't the perfect solution or the right solution. That's always difficult. There's a human factor in this that, I think, we should recognize.
NNAMDISusan Eisenhower, how is this memorial being funded?
EISENHOWERWell, I think it's going to be a public-private partnership. And one reason I welcome the input of every American who is interested in the subject is American taxpayer money is involved. We -- there will be a necessity to go out and raise a significant amount of private funds. And so I'm sure that's where it's important to the commission to try and get the agreement of family members.
NNAMDII was about to say because if there is no support for it from the family, would that not affect the fundraising?
EISENHOWERWell, I think that's up to every specific donor, but I would think that it's a much more sellable idea if everybody is on board. And, as I say, we've been having these discussions, but the announcement a couple of days ago makes it look like, you know, there's very little flexibility for input. And we're concerned about that.
NNAMDIAnd you have mentioned before, you feel the public buy-in is important because a part of this is being supported by taxpayer dollars, but that people are not necessarily always paying attention until something actually goes up and they don't like it. You don't want to wait for that to happen.
EISENHOWERThat's right, Kojo. You know, a number of -- well, I would say it was about a year-and-a-half ago. I spoke to one of the commissioners, again, voicing family concerns. And he said, you know what, Susan, now is the time to get this right. And it really is the time to get it right because we are actually making a statement not only about Dwight Eisenhower but who we are as the American people and what we want to leave the future generations. And if you start that process and you don't get it right, hundreds of years is a pretty long time to be living with something that doesn't hit the mark.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Donna in Washington, D.C. Donna, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DONNAI was fortunate enough to go to a reception where they were showing all of the designs that had been submitted. And, frankly, this might have been the worst one, in my view -- the worst choice they could had made. There were certainly a number of others that would have been far better choices as far I was concerned. And I, frankly, think it's appalling that they're not letting the family have much more influence, if not final say, over what gets done. Is there a way to open the process again and reconsider some of the other really excellent designs?
NNAMDIGlad you mention that, Donna, because both Roger and Susan -- this is something we obviously won't be able to resolve on this show today, but I'd like each of you to comment. How do we determine what is a fitting memorial, and who should decide?
LEWISWell, that's always an issue. I mean, that comes up not just with memorials but with all projects. I mean, I think I'm less concerned than some others about the process here, living as we do in our process-driven culture. But I think that the notion here is that once a design is set on the table, it really is up to the Commission of Fine Arts, National Capital Planning Commission. The Park Service has a lot to say about it. I think I would oppose -- or I think the idea of having a referendum on a design is absolutely not the way to go.
LEWISI think some of the people you hope that are making judgments are people whose judgment is informed and who are respected people. I sat on the Alexandria Design Review Board. We face this all the time. A lot of it is value judgment and opinion. So I think that, in this case, there has been some -- I've talked about momentum. I think the fact that it's Frank Gehry's signature on this has probably influenced some of the review (unintelligible).
NNAMDISame question to you, Susan Eisenhower. How do we determine what's a fitting memorial and who should design?
EISENHOWERWell, first of all, I'd like to underscore what the caller mentioned. Yes, there were other architects that competed for this. As a matter of fact, my brother is a commissioner, supported a different architectural firm, but Mr. Gehry's firm won the day. And we were -- we wanted to be supportive of that. However, he did not have to show a design before he was selected. And I actually think this is -- that the process was a lost opportunity.
EISENHOWERThere are so many talented architects around the country who have innovative ideas that are both modern and even innovative ways of looking at traditional architecture. But we lost the opportunity to have an open process. To now to go to an open process would have to be, I believe, the decision of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. And I think that Roger had a very good point about the investment of where we are today, I'm thinking more psychological investment on the part of the commissioners.
EISENHOWERBut this is going to be America's memorial, and it seems to me that we lost an opportunity to find another Maya Lin who did the...
NNAMDII was about to say, Roger, we can talk about the Vietnam Memorial because a lot of people are bringing it up to discuss the process of how memorial designs are chosen. The Vietnam War Memorial was an open competition with more than 1,000 anonymous designs submitted. The winner was Maya Lin, at the time, a 21-year-old architecture student at Yale. Might that be the fairest competition? Could that happen today?
LEWISOh, yeah. I've run several design competitions. I was the adviser for the World War II Memorial in the state of Maryland. No, I'm very -- I've been involved in a number of design competitions. If we could start over, that's what we should have -- should do. I mean, I think what Susan is saying -- and I agree with -- is that if we were at the zero point on the timeline, we would probably recommend -- or I would recommend that they have an open design competition. And I think, frankly, that could still happen.
LEWISI mean, if the commission -- if people decided on the commission that maybe it is time to open this up, they certainly could do that. There's nothing vis-à-vis the law or any legislation I know of that would prevent us from having an open design competition. Certainly, a lot of my architecture colleagues have told me directly that they wished they had had a competition.
NNAMDISusan Eisenhower, what's the next step in this process?
EISENHOWERWell, I get -- my family's in consultation at the moment about the statement that was made earlier this week. We don't have a formal response yet, but we will. We -- in my testimony last week, I did call for a redesign. We didn't stipulate whether it ought to be Mr. Gehry redesigning it or opening up this competition. Actually, if we opened up a competition, Mr. Gehry could compete. I mean, you know, there are all sorts of ways this could be handled.
EISENHOWERI do think that it's regrettable, though, that the statement was so strong and so definitive because it seems to narrow everyone's options. But we'll have to see what happens next, and I'm sure that we'll have something formal to say before too long.
NNAMDISusan Eisenhower, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDISusan Eisenhower is president of the Eisenhower Group, Inc. and chairman emeritus of the Eisenhower Institute. The Eisenhower Group provides strategic counsel on political, business and public affairs protests. We're going to take a short break. Roger Lewis is staying with us. We're going to talk about other memorials past and maybe future. If you've called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your call. 800-433-8850 is the number.
NNAMDIWhat Washington Memorial is your favorite? You can also communicate with us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on memorials in the capital. Roger Lewis is with us. He's an architect and the "Shaping the City" columnist with The Washington Post. He's also professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland, College Park. Several people would like to address this issue. I'll start with Dan in Silver Spring, Md. Dan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANHi. I actually totally agree with what Roger's main comments were about the design. And I just -- I'm just going to add my comments, which are I think it fails architecturally just 'cause of the scale. It actually reminds me of, like, Albert Speer's kind of work and the same -- you know, the same kind of work that Eisenhower fought against, and the scale just seems out of place with the humbleness of Eisenhower, who -- I'm a huge admirer of him.
DANAnd then also from an urban point of view, it seems like walling off the entire context by building an 80-foot -- what is essentially, as Roger describes, an 80-foot screen. It just seems nutty. I mean, he did a great museum in Bilbao. He does, once in a while, great work. But it just seems like -- like Roger said, he just took the scale and filled it up and kind of missed the boat.
NNAMDIAnd we got this email from Donna in addition, Dan and Roger: "Please tell me why there have to be memorials built all over the Mall. I like the openness of the Mall and the ability to see green spaces and not have it to look cluttered. Why not build a memorial as a hall of presidents and show accomplishments of each president?" Roger?
LEWISWell, first of all, Congress has said that it -- that nothing more -- once the African-American Museum is built, there will be no more museums or memorials on what we think of as the Mall, which is the landscape that stretches from the Capitol building to the Lincoln Memorial, that there will be nothing more built in terms of buildings or large memorials there. But there are many, many other sites around Washington, such as this one where the Eisenhower Memorial is proposed, that are identified by the National Capital Planning Commission as potential memorial sites.
LEWISAnd as I said earlier, we will -- once we get our authorization from Congress, the Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation will be looking for a little site somewhere in the area. I think the -- I think what we -- we are always going to have people wanting to build memorials for hundreds of years to come, centuries to come. And that's my other problem with this. I mean, we are using -- you know, that site that the Eisenhower Memorial is going on is a park -- could be a park big enough for several memorials. We could build the Eisenhower Memorial within that space.
LEWISWe could build, ultimately, a Harry Truman Memorial. We could build a memorial to American teachers since it's right next to the education building. So I think one of our problems is to -- or one of the challenges is to change the thinking of people who think you can't build a memorial unless you have five or 10 acres of space. We're going to run out of landscape.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Dan. We move on to Astrid in Washington, D.C. Astrid, your turn.
ASTRIDAll right. Hello. Thank you for taking my call. Just my comment regarding the design, it feels for me that it's more a memorial to Gehry than it is the -- to Eisenhower. And when you think of the Vietnam Memorial, we don't often speak of Maya Lin, but it has become known as the Vietnam Memorial. And I think that should be -- when we think 50 years ahead, that's the way we want to describe the Eisenhower Memorial, too. It is the Eisenhower. It's not the Frank Gehry Eisenhower, so there's a complication there. But sometimes more is less, and that's just my comment. And I agree with (word?).
NNAMDIAstrid, thank you very much for your call. The size and, I guess, dimensions of this memorial cause it to think, in Astrid's mind, well, is this really a memorial to Eisenhower or to Frank Gehry? And she mentioned the Vietnam Memorial, Roger. As we know, the Vietnam Memorial, with its unconventional design of simple black-etched walls, is now celebrated by many as a design masterpiece. But it was very controversial when it was proposed, wasn't it?
LEWISIndeed. Well, it was, of course, not at all in the tradition of so many memorials in Washington, which are stylistically neoclassical. It was -- I mean, I think that the problem always, when -- for us, when we design things, is that if we do something that's not the same as what we've been doing, there are always going to be people who find it objectionable. In fact, it was sufficiently problematic for the veterans that they didn't stop with the wall. They then added a sculpture. I don't know if people have -- remember this. There is a sculpture depicting soldiers. Then they wanted an American flag.
LEWISNow, they want to build an underground interpretive center, which is probably one of the most absurd ideas ever approved by Congress and the authorities here in Washington. I think the -- no matter what you do, there are going to be some people who are not happy. I must say my -- anecdotally, I have found almost nobody who thinks the Eisenhower Memorial design, as it's been done, is a good idea. And I think someone -- I think Dan, who called earlier -- talked about the urban issue. I mean, I -- my biggest beef with the design has to do with the urban design misstep that it is.
LEWISI mean, putting up this fence -- I've likened it to a kind of fence -- I just think is the wrong thing to do. Even though the Johnson Education building on the south isn't the greatest architecture in the world, it's a very acceptable background building that appropriately does frame a space, doesn't need to have, sitting in front of it, this veil. So I think -- I just think that, from an urban design point of view, it's the wrong thing to do.
NNAMDIOn to Daniel in Northeast Washington. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELThank you, Kojo. It all seems completely out of control. Susan Eisenhower testified that a simple statue at the Eisenhower office building would have been appropriate, could have been done for a fraction of the cost. They're spending $121 million and got to this point. Martin Luther King's niece left the groundbreaking, saying, this is all too much. Martin Luther King was a simple man. One hundred forty million, they could have endowed a university to Martin Luther King. Roosevelt didn't even want a memorial.
DANIELTom Hanks and Bob Dole spent $250 million on the World War II Memorial while vets are going without medical care and living on sewer grates. And I just did a little research. The Lincoln Memorial was built for $3 million. So this National Capital Planning Commission -- Roger K. Lewis is saying it. The whole paradigm is out of control, every aspect of it. The Mall isn't intended to be a theme park. The Roosevelt Memorial itself is just absurd for the number of statues and waterfalls. Martin Luther King, they didn't even get the (word?) right.
NNAMDII think we got your point. Daniel, allow me to have Roger Lewis respond.
LEWISWell, yeah, I think the -- I think there is a -- there's -- there are too many memorials on steroids, and I think that maybe the reality will be that the -- again, the authorities, the people who really can affect this, the Congress, to some extent, but the Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission, the Park Service, they could be a little more, I think, proactive in getting people who want to build memorials to be much more modest.
NNAMDIIt just seems that when a memorial is proposed, there's a desire to make it grand...
NNAMDI...as if commemorating a great person or a major event means it's got to be a big monument.
LEWISYeah, exactly. I always talk about the Kennedy gravesite up on the hill, overlooking Arlington Cemetery. Very intimate space, it's an -- it's memorable. It's inspiring. It's -- I just -- I think it's time for us to at least show a few examples. The Japanese-American Memorial that Davis Buckley designed over near Capitol is a good example. It's a very intimate space that, I think, illustrates that memorials don't have to be immense and gigantic. Yeah, we've got to get off that.
NNAMDIDaniel, thank you very much for your call. Here's Joanne in Washington, D.C. Joanne, your turn. Hi, Joanne.
JOANNEHi. I just had a question for Roger. And I wondered if it wasn't time to do something about the Fine Arts Commission, which has a tremendous amount of power, and they've made an awful lot of terrible mistakes.
LEWISWell, the Commission of Fine Arts is, of course, very much dependent -- what it does is -- depends on who's on it. They're actually -- I know a number of the people on the commission. They're very competent, very highly respected professionals. I think that, once again, probably in this case, the commission was taken with Gehry and what he -- this idea was a very -- innovative. It's a very innovative idea. In my article on Jan. 28 in The Post, I said it's -- it is unconventional, innovative.
NNAMDIAnd we have a link to that article, by the way, Joanne, at kojoshow.org. Go ahead, Roger.
LEWISSo I -- maybe some of them are having second thoughts, the commission members. I don't know. I think the idea of having an arts commission that can review designs is a good idea, but they're no better. These commissions are no better than the people that are appointed to them. There was a period, believe it or not, when the commission had no architects on it, for example. That's not the case now.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We got an email from William, who says, "Regarding future memorials, does your guest know if there are any plans to build a memorial for President Nixon? What are the criteria for deciding who does and does not get a memorial?"
LEWISI can answer that. I don't know of any proposals for Nixon. Under the Commemorative Works Act, which was passed by Congress in 1986, the primary criterion is the determination that whoever or whatever you're commemorating is of lasting historic significance. Now, that's about as far as it goes. It -- you know, that, once again, all of this involves value judgments. There's not a checklist. But I think that we would all probably agree that Eisenhower in the history of America, that what he accomplished, was of lasting historic significance.
LEWISAnd if someone does come forward with a Nixon commemorative proposal, it'll have to stand that same test. I was not a fan of Richard Nixon, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he wasn't of historic significance.
NNAMDICan someone make the argument that resigning in disgrace over a major scandal over a break-in is somehow of resounding historic significance?
LEWISYeah, that's a...
NNAMDIDifficult argument to make.
NNAMDIThank you very much for that email. Here is Jim in Fairfax, Va. Jim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JIMThank you. Eisenhower, I think, was a great person. But for -- I guess, for decades I've been wondering why one of the most prominent people in our country who helped form it has never really had anything much put up to, I guess, award his achievements. That would be John Adams. McCullough wrote a book. PBS did a series on it. There's the play of "1776," and you can really see all the work he did. He wasn't liked by a lot of people 'cause he was so tenacious and forceful. But I think if he hadn't been that way, I don't think that the Declaration...
NNAMDII guess that underscores the problem that you were just addressing.
LEWISYeah. Now, there is a memorial to John Adams being contemplated. Actually, that has been proposed, and I believe that is in the works. But I'm not familiar with exactly where it is.
NNAMDIJim, thank you very much for your call. We're running out of time, but I do have to share this email we got from Conrad. "I was at the centennial of Gettysburg where Ike was a keynote speaker," writes Conrad. "I decided to see if I could shake hands with one of my heroes. I was wearing a sweatshirt from a college in the D.C. area. When I got to him, he said, 'Washington, D.C., huh? I used to live there.' Playing along with a smile, I said, 'Really, where?' His laugh was neat as he said, 'A little White House on some backstreet.' Shows him as the great humanitarian he was."
NNAMDII think that's an appropriate way to end this conversation over the ongoing controversy over the Eisenhower Memorial. Roger Lewis, as I said earlier, always a pleasure.
LEWISThank you, likewise a pleasure for me.
NNAMDIRoger Lewis is an architect and the "Shaping the City" columnist with The Washington Post. He's also a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland, College Park. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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