Its Gehry vs Krier on Eisenhower Memorial

No wonder its controversial

Frank Gehry’s proposal for a huge 113 million dollar Eisenhowever memorial at the National Mall in Washington has engendered a furious atack from Leon Krier

The Eisenhower Memorial competition and project have stirred a remarkable polemic, the center of which is not President Eisenhower or Washington, D.C. but Mr. Gehry and the values he promulgates. I am writing not as an enemy of Mr. Gehry but as a lover of what the nation’s capital for two centuries promised to be, could have been and may still become. …

That Gehry is a great artist I have no doubt, but talent and determination are no warrant against confusion, nor are they a guaranty to produce great art. Looking at his work and reading his justifications I conclude that Mr. Gehry is a great but greatly confused artist, who was appointed by a commission who shares his intellectual confusion and distaste of a classical Washington, D.C. They form a powerful fraternity, believing in the exclusive legitimacy of Modernism, a theory that has been brain-dead for half a century but keeps dominating positions in academia and its dependent culture industry. This theory, at first fired by fossil fuel energies combined to an atavistic belief in infinite progress, is now held alive by fear of regression. The fear of backwardness is what blinds the believers to the technological treasure house of traditional architecture and urbanism. The ensuing technological and artistic amnesia is responsible for the cataclysmic degradation of the built environment, of which the Southwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., where the Eisenhower Memorial is to be located, is a notorious demonstration. Mr. Gehry is well-known for buildings whose forms suggest not the “frozen music” of Classicism, but frozen melt-down and explosion, paralyzed tremor and arrested collapse. Indeed the remnants of the World Trade Center were eerily reminiscent of Gehry’s style. He justifies his designs as being uniquely expressive of the “creative chaos and energy” that, according to him, democracy stands for and engenders. If his proposition were true, that “creative chaos and energy” would indeed not only affect all building design but equally that of tools, vehicles, machinery, engineering works, agriculture, cooking, language. Why would architecture and art have to be the lone bearers of epochal stigmata? As a militant modernist and post-modernist he strongly believes that Classicism, Traditional Architecture and Urbanism are and should be passé.  He frivolously overlooks the fact that American democracy and institutions are to this day uniquely associated with and symbolized by Classical and Traditional Architecture, and that 99% of private residential architecture is of traditional orientation, if not conception…

The WWII memorial, two of which could fit on the Eisenhower Square site, cost $182 million. It was realized in natural stone and traditional techniques. It is foreseeable that the XXL size and experimental nature of the Gehry scheme will cost more than the announced $112.5 million. Monuments are expensive and that is why in D.C. they traditionally are kept at a fraction of the proposed expanse. Mr. Gehry cannot be blamed for the choice of site but he alone is responsible for sprawling his memorial over an entire city block. For $112.5 million a fine classical building can be built with grand proportions and the finest materials. Instead, an oversized forecourt without a building is proposed here, a Bernini Colonnade without a St. Peter’s, so to speak…. My guess is that there is no intended meaning in the extravagant size. Why should the Eisenhower memorial be over twice the size of WWII Memorial? Why should it be so vast as to comfortably house two Lincoln Memorials, two Washington Monuments, and two Jefferson Memorials all six at once?… President Eisenhower is known to have been highly critical of modernist art. The American Battle Monuments Commission, on which he served as an officer, became famous in the U.S., and after WWII around the world, for a supremely serene, restrained, elegant and modern form of architectural and landscaping Classicism, largely indebted to the spirit that guided the 1901-2 McMillan Commission Plan that created the National Mall as we know it. The post-war redevelopment of the Southwest D.C. neighborhood, beyond the human tragedy of wholesale clearing an entire urban community, replaced L’Enfant’s urban armature and network of streets and squares with a soulless nowhere. The gruesome operation was a crucible for imposing on Washington, D.C. the modernist vision so detested by Eisenhower, abhorred by the users and occasional visitors and avoided and ignored by those who have no obligatory business there… As demonstrated by the Counterproposal Competition, the New Eisenhower Square can also become the occasion for a critically needed Washington, D.C. urban renaissance, resurrecting the human scale, the measure, color, variety and soul of the original L’Enfant vision, as brilliantly demonstrated by Francisco Ruiz’s proposal (3rd prize in the Counterproposal Competition) symbolically much better attuned with Eisenhower and his legacy. I am not of those who believe that this memorial will violate the integrity of Washington, D.C. in some new way. That herculean task has already been superbly accomplished. Deplorably, if this project goes ahead, we will miss yet another great occasion to finally stop the self-destructive rollercoaster which has been disfiguring the Nation’s capital and soul for three-score years.

It must be bsaid though that the first place in the counterproposal content by Daniel Cook is utterly ridiculous, more suited to the French Third Republic than Washington DC.

Daniel Ruiz’s proposal is more like it with a restrained mausoleum classicism. Though if the rumors about Eisenhower are true perhaps the best memrial is a giant marble UFO.