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For thousands of years, erecting a monument to a great personage or event has involved creating a structure with a powerful physical as well as symbolic presence. The monument might be architectural, sculptural, or both. But going back to Stonehenge and even further, monumentality has always been essentially a matter of construction.
Frank Gehry’s game is deconstruction. He is known for buildings that look like they’re coming apart, such as his Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, his Ray and Maria Stata Center at MIT, and his Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health (sic) in Las Vegas. Monuments, like great buildings, have always been designed to convey a sense of permanence. Gehry prefers to convey a sense of the precarious.
If only for that reason, for a congressionally chartered commission to hire Gehry to erect a monument to a great American soldier and statesman in the heart of the nation’s capital makes about as much sense as Pope John Paul II commissioning a requiem from the Sex Pistols.
But that is precisely what the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission (EMC) did six years ago after conducting a dubious portfolio-based competition intended to attract trendy designers rather than appropriate designs. Such a competition inevitably tilted the playing field in Gehry’s favor. Moreover, retired business executive Rocco Siciliano, until very recently the EMC’s chair, is a friend of Frank’s who started dropping the architect’s name at the commission’s very first board meeting in 2001. The competition attracted all of 44 entries — a pathetic sum for a national presidential memorial. Just last week, a competition for a new World War I memorial in Washington attracted over 350 designs. […]