Monumental challenges: Frank Gehry’s Eisenhower memorial

The Canadian architect’s design faces setbacks as congress refuses to greenlight funding
Scaachi Koul
Architect Frank Gehry’s model of the Eisenhower Memorial is viewed on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 15, 2012, before a meeting of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. Designers from architect Frank Gehry’s firm unveiled some changes to a planned memorial honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Washington after hearing complaints from members of Eisenhower’s family. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

A proposed memorial for former U.S. president and five-star general Dwight “Ike” D. Eisenhower has stalled after months of controversy, and a Canadian architect is at the centre of it.

Architect Frank Gehry's model of the Eisenhower Memorial is viewed on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

Frank Gehry, 83, was initially asked to design Ike’s Washington memorial. Few, however, appear pleased with his designs. The Toronto-born architect wanted to focus on Eisenhower’s humble roots, which bothered conservatives who said that would diminish the legacy he built up during his later years. His family agreed.

Gehry then wanted to erect metal mesh screens around the four-acre plot to hide the drab neighbouring office buildings. Eisenhower’s granddaughter Susan said the screens brought to mind the Iron Curtain, comparing the memorial to those created for Marx, Engels and Lenin. “That was the point at which I could have left the stage,” said Gehry. Perhaps he should have.

Last week, a congressional committee nixed nearly $60 million in funding for the memorial, reflecting growing concern over the controversies. Gehry, however, is pushing ahead. Hope is not lost, says Chris Kelley Cimko, spokesperson for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission. After all, she says, “It took some 40 years to build the Roosevelt memorial.”