November 24, 2008

7 Mod Architecture Firms Shortlisted for Eisenhower Memorial

According to BD Online:

"Frank Gehry and Moshe Safdie are among the seven architects who have made the shortlist for the competition to design the £60 million National Eisenhower Memorial in Washington DC.

The other five are Ralph Johnson of Perkins & Will; landscape architect Peter Walker; New York firm Rogers Marvel Architects; Ron Krueck of Krueck & Sexton Architects; and San Francisco-based Stanley Saitowitz."

This news is dissapointing on two levels. First the continuation of the dominant status quo in architecture of whizbang modernism, without any deference or respect for the depth of classical architecture. Doubtless some classical architect out there, and there are many that have the resume of Gehry et al (many in fact have more significant projects built than most of the finalists), submitted some sort of design for the project, but why only modernist firms? The complete disregard of ANY sort of classically minded firm is shameful. Americans love classical architecture, as a recent poll proved, but are sneered at by the press as being ignorant. Why shouldn't America get a chance to have a classical monument, like the ones so beloved by the country that exist in DC already?

The answer? The deck is stacked. Which leads to the second dissapointment, the process. The process to select the design was not as one might expect, an open competition of designs. The commision used the architectural establishment's little dirty secret, the RFQ, a "Request For Qualifications." This process does not weigh competing designs, weighing them on the merit of the proposal, the beauty or the genius of the design, but instead looks for "qualified" architects. This gives you one of two things, a "qualified" but banal designer, who has a lot to show, or apparently in this case, a lot of flashy names who's primary qualification is that they are famous.

The designs? Oh they'll come later. According to "None of the finalists have presented designs, and most likely won't before the winner is selected. 'I haven't really though of it', said Saitowitz. How can one get a great memorial for one of our most distinguished President's and General's if we don't even have a design? I believe that competitions, while not perfect, certainly bring out much better design than simply just naming someone and hoping that because he/she is "qualified we'll get a great place and memorial. I suppose that doesn't matter to whoever the jury were (they weren't revealed), I guess that they just want to have "A Gehry" or something whizbang to show that DC can be stylish like New York or Chicago.

The RFP system should be scrapped for all Federal projects, especially memorials and smaller buildings. Instead we should have open competitions, where common people get to decide. We would open the arts to architects and artists that appear to be now "unqualified" but would be able to adorn our Capital with great monuments again.


Anonymous said...

Rather than calling for the scrapping of the RFP process for federal buildings it might be more productive for your cause if you promoted getting more neo-classical architecture firms involved in the government's existing process.

Classicists can bang their head on the wall wishing the feds did it differently, but it is highly unlikely anything will change the existing process in a substantive way. The cards might still be stacked against them in the selection process but at least they would be part of the discussion and could even end up with a federal job. Of course neo-classical designers would have to get used to the idea of designing buildings upwards of 1 million sf like the U.S. Coastguard's new building planned (to ruin) the National Landmark St. Elizabeths Campus in Anacostia.

No matter how poor you may find GSA's output over the past decade or so (Miers, Graves, etc.) the results would be far worse if their "Design Excellence" process was opened up to public input. I say this because the public may clamour for classicism, but they also too easily would accept a pretty horrendous watered-down version of classicism.

Erik Bootsma said...

Yes it's frustrating, but look what happens when New Classical architects get involved. Thomas Gordon Smith was rumored to take over the Head Architect at GSA and the architecture community had a hissy fit. Sure I'd love a place at the table, but again, when classicists make inroads, the establishment puts up a fight. Its not enough that 99% of public work is profoundly modernist, they need to stop every classical building they can.

I'd love a shot at getting in there, but I'm sorry a nuclear option is needed just to get a shot at this. I think congress needs to take a long hard look at the process and do something, our Capitol is in sorry shape and getting worse all the time.

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