With Wall Street occupied, the economy dismal, the EU threatening to collapse, and many other crises large and small, today’s concerned conservative has a lot on his plate. I’m here to tell you about one of the smaller issues we face, one you probably aren’t aware of, but still an issue that’s a lesson for what we face in restoring our civilization.
I’m speaking of the proposed Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D. C.
The architect chosen to design the memorial is the (in)famous Frank Gehry, designer of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Experience Music Project in Seattle and many other affronts to the human eye. His forte is the aesthetic of the garbage heap, the cultivation of the sheet metal shop floor. If you think I’m exaggerating, take a look at a few of his tasty chef d’oeuvres below:
Well, that’s enough to establish that he’s no Christopher Wren. The choice of Gehry is a coup in terms of publicity, due to his great fame – he’s first among the so-called “starchitects.” But it’s a travesty in every other way. The signal character of Gehry as an architect – the radical, the bomb thrower, the avant-gardist – is utterly at odds with the character of Ike, the steadfast, the dependable, and yes, the conservative. So much so that the Eisenhower family, represented by his granddaughter Susan Eisenhower, has publicly complained about the memorial design.
Rather than celebrate Eisenhower’s obvious achievements as a WWII General and President of the United States, the monument focuses on Ike, the Really Nice Boy. The current proposal is for a set of steel mesh “tapestries” imprinted with pictures illustrating episodes from Ike’s childhood, meant to be easily viewable by drivers speeding by. No mention of the actual historical Ike we all know. Apparently the celebration of the real Ike would be too triumphalist for the radical Gehry. Nor will there be any encouragement given to reflection, which seems to me the purpose of a monument.
In its essence, there is no “monument” here at all, just an excuse to play with a new materials and showcase the designer’s ego. It’s questionable whether the mesh tapestries will even be viewable under typical lighting conditions, so new is the technology. The columns that line the site will not be topped with sculptures in the round, in the Greco-Roman tradition, or decorated with friezes of Ike’s triumphs, like Trajan’s Column in Rome. They are just big things to look at, akin to a highway billboard.
The downplaying of the real Ike is accompanied by the dismissal of a millennia long tradition of monumental architecture, beginning with the obelisks of Egypt (models for the Washington Monument) and continuing up to America’s capital city, which is otherwise an exemplar of this great tradition.
And this eschewing of the intent of monumental architecture for the ego of the architect brings us to the way in which this monument outlines the challenge before us. For this is part and parcel of the Progressive idea in politics.
Gehry as an architect is not his own creation, but merely the current favorite in a long line of desecrators of our cities which begins with the 20th century French architect Le Corbusier.
Corbusier, originally Charles-Édouard Jeanneret – never trust anyone who makes up their own name – I’m talking to you, Bono – was a radical who believed that the design of cities could not be entrusted to tradition and the whims of property owners. An all-encompassing vision was needed to wipe out the errors of the past and to put in place a design that would end social problems and align civilization with the Machine Age. Sound familiar? It should, for this is the “Progressive” vision that is driving our county off the rails as we speak.
Corbusier’s main contribution to civilization is the garden apartment of the 1970’s, a K-mart style descendant of his “Radiant City”, which is marked by the complete absence of humanity. If it stopped there he might be forgiven, but a generation of architects was raised on his manifesto “Towards a New Architecture”. This work was dedicated “To Authority”, presumably his own, and a more apropos dedication can hardly be imagined.
The closest thing we’ve seen to a true implementation of Corbusier’s vision is the housing project of the 1950’s. Here we have Progressive rule-by-experts at its finest. Across America poor neighborhoods were razed to be replaced by the rationally planned “projects”. The immediate result of the replacement of poor yet organically structured and tradition-laden neighborhoods was an increase in every vice that was supposed to be cured. So much so that the only remedy in some cases was yet more demolition. For example, the Pruitt–Igoe project of St. Louis, completed only in 1956 and hailed as a model of the type, was detonated just 16 years later in 1972, the flash of dynamite giving a new meaning to Corbusier’s radiance.
Gehry’s generation seems to have given up on solving social problems, at least in any serious way. But they kept the radicalism and put it in the service of a new master: the raw ego. And that’s what the Eisenhower Memorial is really about: Frank Gehry, the radical. Let’s hope it never gets built, sparing us the trouble of blowing it up too. Though that is a fire I would gladly warm my hands by.
If you’d like to learn more, here are a few links:
If you think this memorial is a disservice to the memory of a great president, you can contact the memorial commission here:
Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission:
Rocco C. Siciliano (Chairman)
1629 “K” Street NW Suite 801
Washington, DC 20006