WASHINGTON — An effort in Congress to eliminate funding and scrap the proposed design for a national memorial honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower drew strong opposition Friday from the American Institute of Architects, which said lawmakers should not censor an architectural work.
Earlier in the week, Utah Rep. Rob Bishop introduced legislation calling for a new design competition for the memorial, citing objections to the current design from Ike's family and the project's cost. Bishop seeks to eliminate $100 million in future funding for the current design by architect Frank Gehry.
The famous architect — whose designs include the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles — has proposed a memorial park for Eisenhower. It would include statues of the president and World War II hero, framed by large metal tapestries depicting images of Ike's boyhood home in Kansas. The tapestries, held up by 80-foot-tall columns, would be a first among Washington's memorials and have drawn objections.
Members of Eisenhower's family have called Gehry's design too extravagant. Others have bemoaned its avant-garde approach with the tapestries. The memorial is projected to cost $142 million, and millions of federal dollars have already been spent in choosing an architect and hiring Gehry.
The American Institute of Architects, representing 83,000 members, said Friday that it will "vigorously oppose" Bishop's legislation mandating an alternate design, saying it would circumvent the yearslong process already completed.
"Representative Bishop's legislation allows Congress to exercise governmental authority in a wholly arbitrary manner that negates the stated selection process," said the association's CEO, Robert Ivy. "It is nothing more than an effort to intimidate the innovative thinking for which our profession is recognized at home and around the globe."
Ivy said the architects' association is not passing judgment on whether Gehry's design for the Eisenhower Memorial is good or bad.
In the past, when Ivy was editor-in-chief of Architectural Record magazine, he served on a design panel for the U.S. General Services Administration to advise on the selection of an architect for the memorial.
Bishop has said lawmakers need to re-evaluate the project in hopes of finding consensus on a design. His legislation also would provide a three-year extension of Congressional approval to use a planned site for the memorial at the base of Capitol Hill near the National Air and Space Museum.
Without an extension from Congress, the project is set to expire this year.
In response to the architects' association, Bishop said he was inviting more design ideas to create a fitting tribute to Eisenhower.
"This bill has nothing to do with influencing the innovative thinking of architects, and everything to do with the responsible management of more than $60 million of taxpayers' money," Bishop said, noting how much money has already been allocated. "The simple reality is that this project and the commission, which are funded by millions of taxpayer dollars, are at a stalemate."
Bishop said he's concerned the memorial project has become too focused on a famous architect's design, rather than Eisenhower's legacy.
A congressional hearing is scheduled for next week on the memorial's status.
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