Friday, April 24, 2009

I Like Ike, Not Gehry

Suppose you were on a commission to build a memorial to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and you had to select an architect to design it.  What sort of qualities would you look for? 

You might start with Eisenhower himself.  Ike was a pretty normal guy considering he commanded the biggest amphibious invasion in history, was president of an Ivy League university, and served two terms as an enormously popular POTUS. 

Unpretentious. Middle American. Common man.

Actually, it’s easier to say what he’s not.

Not trendy. Not intellectual. Not ostentatious.

So, to honor a down-to-earth man’s man whose name is synonymous with 1950s suburban conformity you would naturally choose Frank Gehry as your architect, right?

Well, I can see the conformity part.  I mean, once you’ve seen Bilbao you’ve seen the Disney and every other titanium coprolite Gehry has ever or will ever conceive of.

You can be sure the Gehry Memorial will say more about Gehry than about Eisenhower.  It can be counted on to challenge conventional notions, break with tradition, and annoy the unsophisticated in exactly the way Ike didn’t.

“He wasn’t blustery and didn’t make big pronouncements. I feel a sense of kinship with how he did what he did,” says Gehry with characteristic humility.  What Ike did was defeat fascism.  What has Gehry ever done to warrant any sort of kinship with Eisenhower?  

Gehry’s sort of disposable, transient, situational morality is the polar opposite of what Eisenhower represents.  But instead of being memorialized with a recognizably heroic structure that will stand the test of time, Ike is getting a website.

According to Architectural Record, “visitors will probably learn more about the subject of the memorial from specially created Web video and audio files—a clip of an old Eisenhower speech, perhaps—beamed to a handheld device like, say, an iPhone. Under the competition’s guidelines, Gehry must design this electronic element, too.”

That’s just great.  How long before that feature is obsolete?  A year?  Six weeks?

And what will the design look like?  Don’t know.  The memorial commission isn’t releasing the design to the public.  They won’t release the runner-up designs from Krueck & Sexton, Rogers Marvel Architects, or PWP Landscape Architecture, either.  

That’s not the sort of behavior of a patron confident of the popularity of its decision.