On September 17, 2020, the Eisenhower Memorial was dedicated after 21 years of design and building. After being postponed from May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, its dedication marked an important day for Washington DC, and the wider country.
Frank Gehry, chief architect and designer, was unable to attend the dedication ceremony but recorded a video message to be played to the crowd. Despite his major career, Gehry considers the memorial’s completion to be “one of his proudest moments.”
We at Construction Guide recognize the importance of the Eisenhower Memorial and what it represents to the American public. We want to take this opportunity to reflect on the memorial, Gehry himself, and what this memorial means for architects.
The commission for the Eisenhower Memorial was created back in 1999 by Congress with the intention of creating a memorial to Eisenhower because of his important contributions to the United States. As Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in WW2, and the 34th President, he’s certainly one of the nation’s most important figures.
Gehry won the design competition in 2009 after several years of selection process. He claims he was “so greatly honored to be part of this effort to memorialize Dwight D. Eisenhower in Washington DC.”
But he also acknowledged there were potential issues with the project. First and foremost was the site itself, which he said “didn’t seem great, surrounded by traffic and office buildings.” This is probably one of the main advantages of such a prestigious site though: its central location means it’s there for everyone to view.
Along with the site, Gehry was aware of the sensitive nature of depicting Eisenhower’s life. Eisenhower’s family were involved in the design process, and as a result Gehry claimed, “the result is better.”
The memorial park, built on a 4-acre site, cost $150 million and was opened to the public on September 18. It details events from Eisenhower’s life, including his enrolment in the US Military, becoming Supreme Commander, and his time as President. The park includes such details as sculptures by Sergey Eylanbekov and a stainless steel tapestry by Tomas Osinki.
The dedication ceremony featured 100 guests, including members of Eisenhower’s family, and speeches and dedications from people such as Gehry and NASA astronaut Christopher Cassidy. The ceremony itself was streamed live on C-Span and Facebook around the world.
David Eisenhower, Dwight’s grandson, said how important it was for the memorial to depict young people acting as role models, and how this would benefit young people of today. He stated how, “memorials indeed preserve history, and they also do, and must, reflect our values. The test of a memorial is timelessness.”
Construction Guide wants to congratulate all involved in the project, from design through construction and into completion. Memorials are indeed designed to be timeless, and it’s safe to say this Gehry’s design will remain a central focus of the already formidable Washington DC memorial landscape for generations to come.