After a few quiet months, tensions are rising again surrounding the proposed design for the National Mall memorial honoring President Dwight Eisenhower.
This time, opponents and advocates are latching onto the content of the same two-page letter to bolster their position.
Written by the consulting firm GALE Associates Inc., the letter is part of an almost 600-page technical report the Eisenhower Memorial Commission submitted in August to the National Capital Planning Commission, a panel that must approve the design before construction can begin.
The letter, accompanied by several photographs, reports the results of extensive testing done on the materials and structures the memorial would incorporate to determine whether the concept is sustainable against the elements, as well as capable of deflecting trash and debris that might mar the memorial’s appearance.
“GALE noticed some fraying of the strands at various locations [and] suspected these frays of possibly catching and holding debris. Some minor discoloration of the stainless steel wire was noted at weld locations,” the letter reads, adding that in the event that debris latches onto parts of the memorial, a pressure washer would be necessary to remove it.
But despite this observation, the letter concludes that “the probability of random debris becoming lodged in the tapestry is low. The fact that the tapestry will be 15 to 20-feet above grade would likely further reduce this potential.”
National Civic Art Society President Justin Shubow, one of the memorial’s leading critics, said the letter conveyed the possibility that the design’s experimental elements could prove fatal to its longevity.
“Why do we even want to take a chance on a national memorial?” asked Shubow, who argues that the design is both structurally flawed as well as unattractive and unbefitting of the former president and World War II hero’s legacy. “And even if they give some evidence that it’s durable and permanent, it certainly doesn’t look permanent. It’s gauzy, ephemeral and does not look like something that will last for the ages. And there’s no way to prove [its durability] because it’s never been done before.”
Chris Cimko, spokeswoman for the 11-member Eisenhower Memorial Commission, of which eight members are Congressional lawmakers, dismissed Shubow’s comments about the GALE letter’s findings.
“We believe that the GALE letter is absolutely correct. It states in black and white that based on testing they’ve done, the probability of random debris is low. That’s what we’re focusing on,” Cimko said. “And the National Civic Arts Society has opposed us from the start, so we’re not surprised it is taking elements of this report out of context.”
Meanwhile, Shubow also accuses the commission of flying below the transparency radar, aided by a General Services Administration that orchestrated the selection process that lead to the appointment of architect Frank Gehry to design the memorial.
The NCPC posted the technical report online in September, Shubow said, at which point he downloaded a copy for himself. A month later, he discovered the report had been removed at the GSA’s request. Shubow has gone on to publish the report on a separate website (www.eisenhowermemorial.net) run by the National Civic Art Society to campaign against Gehry’s design.