It’s been almost twenty years since the process to create a memorial to Eisenhower started, most of it mired in controversy over the design. For a long time, representatives of the Federal government, various commissions, and the Eisenhower family all hated it, but finally the design was modified and approved, and construction started in 2017. It covers a whole block, in between the Air and Space Museum and the Department of Education.
The memorial is scheduled to open on May 8th, the 75th anniversary of D-Day. There’s still a metal fence around the area covered in green mesh, but there are a couple of gaps where one can see the almost-finished memorial.
There are two large sculptural blocks that are simple and traditional.
There is a small information center, and we’re grateful to see it increase the supply of public restrooms.
Aside from the traditional landscaping and the sculptures, the main features of the design are very odd – a massive mesh screen and free-standing columns. Both of these features seem strange and unlikely to convey meaning to many of the visitors. But the memorial is designed by Frank Gehry, so it might end up being much more special than we can appreciate at first.
The mesh screen is 450 feet long, stretching most of the length of the Department of Education. This photo shows the transparency of the screen. On the right, the screen and column cover the view of the building, and on the far left, the screen ends and the view of the building is unobstructed.
As to what the screen depicts, that was one of the items that was under controversy. Initial ideas were to make it scenes of Eisenhower’s life or the war, but the final decision was to depict a peacetime scene of the Normandy coast.
These two images of part of the screen are the same photo. The one on the left shows how the screen appears on a normal cloudy day. The same photo on the right has been post-processed to bring out as much detail of the design as possible – and as you can see, it is still really difficult to tell what it is. Maybe in certain times of day or different weather conditions or under nighttime lights, the design might be more obvious, but we doubt it.
Here’s another photo of the screen being installed, again post-processed to try to bring out details of the scene on the screen. Even here, it is pretty impossible to look at the screen and tell that it represents the Normandy coast in peacetime.
Regardless of what one thinks about the design, it’s a magnificent piece of technology – a stainless steel fabrication involving about 82 million welds. Here’s a video with more information from Tomas Osinski, the artist executing the design.
The other oddity about the design is the columns. There are a series of six columns holding up the mesh, but the odd feature is the two free-standing columns at the other side of the memorial. These columns are 80 feet tall, and it is hard to tell what they intend to mean or how they are integrated into the rest of the design (in a Congressional hearing, Susan Eisenhower wondered if the columns could “be misconstrued as symbols of missile silos?”)
So how will the memorial be judged? Our best guess is somewhat like the World War II Memorial – lots of architectural criticism at first, but ending up a space that both visitors and locals enjoy. And we welcome an additional open space of four treed acres in the heart of the city, as well as the end of the twenty-year road to its completion.
All photos copyright to Victoria Pickering