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Experts: Proposed Eisenhower memorial may turn out fragile, dangerous

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Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer

Experts are questioning the strength of the welding meant to secure the 80-foot-tall stainless-steel tapestries that are planned to hang over visitors at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial.

Those revelations, and concerns about falling ice from the tapestries, came to light in a formal review of the plans for the monument's metal tapestries, part of a memorial meant to pay homage to the former president and World War II general.

The monument, designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry and planned for the 4-acre site at Independence and Maryland avenues SW, has already faced objections and obstacles. The Eisenhower family has opposed the designs. The project had been delayed twice already, and it appears to be headed for another one.

On Friday, the National Capital Planning Commission released a tentative agenda for its March 7 meeting without the memorial on its agenda -- which it had been expected to be.

In the review of the monument's signature tapestries, experts submitted opinions on the technical plans for the $142 million project.

Carol Grissom, a senior conservator at the Smithsonian Institute, reviewed the plans. She was concerned over how closely the project's design team had considered the strength of the memorial's welding.

"[T]he greatest concern is not with the stainless-steel alloy but with the welds, since the welding creates slightly different metallic compositions leading to corrosion. I also expect that it may be difficult to achieve good welds for the braided cables that create the tapestry images," Grissom wrote.

Tim Foecke, deputy chief with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, wrote that he wants to see more tests to evaluate the welding process, calling the tests "critical for assessing the lifespans of the tapestries."

Gehry Partners, which did not return repeated requests for comment Friday, responded in the report that "further testing on the braided wire for corrosion and welding" would be "provided at a later date."

Brian Placzankis, with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, also reviewed the memorial plans. He wrote that "one issue that was perhaps not as well considered" was the possibility that heavy sections of ice "could injure memorial site visitors or passing pedestrians unfortunate enough to be located underneath the structure at one of those release events."

The memorial's design team responded that tests are being performed on the memorial's mock-ups in order to better understand the potential for ice and snow build up on the tapestry.

Gehry, the memorial's architect, designed Case Western Reserve's business school, which had problems with falling ice. The school's administration barricaded sections of the sidewalk to protect students.

Justin Shubow, a critic of the project and head of the National Civic Art Society, said the concerns highlighted in the report were just another strike against the memorial.

"It's fundamentally a monument to the architect and not to Eisenhower," Shubow said.

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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