Housing Complex

Prospects Not Looking Good for Eisenhower “Tapestries”

Full metal tapestries, getting in your viewsheds.

Oh Frank Gehry, can't you make anyone in D.C. happy?

In designing the Eisenhower Memorial planned for the anonymous plot of land southeast of the Museum of the American Indian, Gehry has proposed three alternatives: One with a circle of columns and blocks cut through by Maryland Avenue, a similar design that diverts traffic around it and creates a friendly public plaza, and something a little different, with 78-foot-high metal "tapestries" that depict Ike's upbringing in Abilene, Texas. The last one, the Eisenhower Commission's preferred alternative, would stand out among D.C.'s collection of weighty commemorations. But it hasn't been well received by the bodies that decide whether such things move forward or not.

The Commission on Fine Arts reviewed the concept back in May and had some technical issues with the design–would snow obscure the metal mesh?–and followed up later with a letter that recommended dispensing with the tapestry concept altogether. The Department of Education, which occupies the LBJ building directly south of the site, has protested that the tapestries would block views and natural light for its employees. And now the staff of the National Capital Planning Commission, which will formally review the three concepts on Thursday, is out with a decidedly skeptical recommendation as to the viability of tapestries as a design element, however pretty they might appear.

Aesthetically, the issue that the staff have with the 550-foot-wide metal mesh is that it shuts out the surrounding buildings, preventing them from taking part in the framing of the memorial. The design, they comment, "essentially establishes walls that define a self-contained memorial precinct" and will "overshadow the LBJ building and eliminate its changes to participate fully in the definition of this new urban square." They did praise the tapestries in theory, and recommended that the design team find a way better integrate with the Maryland Avenue viewshed and surrounding buildings. But will Gehry be willing to compromise his vision so drastically? Looks like the 81-year-old architectural legend's first foray into the nation's capital might more of a headache than he imagined.

  • Thayer-D

    Didn't Gehry try to pull his this schtick on the Corchoran? I sure hope Gehry dosen't back down, maybe he will deem us incurably retrograde (reactionary?) and take his snake oil to a town that's insecure enough to buy it.

  • WardQueen

    Frank Gehry is a vastly over rated hack, schtick is the right word for his bilge. There are far better architects and designers. I consider it a victory when something of his doesn't get built having seen that which does. He is a glorified window dresser.

  • Bob See

    I remember seeing Gehry's Cochoran plans being submitted to the DCRA permit office; the expediter was using something that resembled a hand-truck to bring the rolls in. I would have loved to have viewed the drawings. It's too bad it didn't get built.

  • John

    Gehry overrated? Maybe but his plans for the Corcoran looked absolutely awesome. Google search his renderings and models and then google search the latest rendering... it's a crying shame it didn't get built.

  • http://alexblock.net Alex B.

    Who cares about the LBJ Building? Wasn't one of Gehry's key selling points about his design was that he would explicitly block the LBJ building from view?

  • Kay C
  • Thayer-D

    It's not who cares about the LBJ building, it's about the people who work in it. Again, classic the building is about itself rather than the people that live in and around it. What an arrogant putz. I used to see every smart alec kid at architecture school try to pull this stuff off. The ones that did got rewarded with adulation.
    What a joke!

  • Kay C