Location: Washington, D.C., USA
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial celebrates the life and accomplishments of the 34th President of the United States. Located at the center of a 4-acre landscaped plaza, the Memorial features a commemorative large-scale stainless-steel tapestry, bronze sculptures, and inscription wall. Lighting is closely interwoven with the design by Gehry Partners. L’Observatoire International was commissioned for a full scope of lighting design: illuminating the plaza and its pathways, the memorial core, and surrounding streetlighting.
Set within the grand urban plan of Washington, D.C.—a grid defined by a network of avenues that intersect at monumental nodes—the Memorial is nestled between federal buildings. The site aligns to Independence Avenue, while Maryland Avenue, one of the city’s radial thoroughfares, crosses through the plaza. Its trajectory is marked as a landscaped path that precisely frames the Capitol, connecting the Memorial to the National Mall and center of the city.
The lighting concept shapes the Memorial square as a volume of light. Through a horizontal layering of lighting, the site becomes a three-dimensional space, lending it a sense of interiority rather than imposing an outward display. The Memorial is transformed into a welcoming “urban room” whose perimeters are defined by light rather than physical walls. The layering directs particular focus to the Memorial Core, while anchoring its individual elements within the plaza.
The multidimensionality of light also considers varying scales of experience, from the grand scale of the capital city, to the neighborhood and individual level. A feeling of compression and release defines the pedestrian’s movement through the Memorial. The Approach Walk, which leads diagonally from the corners of the site into its center, guides visitors through the intimate scale of the softly lit landscaped paths to the Memorial Core, where the site opens up to showcase the monumentality of the tapestry. Low level lighting provides the illumination for walking surfaces without distracting pedestrians from the landscape. Lighting is integrated into the handrails and undersides of benches, obviating the need for downlighting from above. The large trees that stand in the center of the square are backlit by the Memorial Core, defining them only as silhouettes at night.
The central elements in the Memorial Core—bronze sculptures by Sergey Eylanbekov, the President Eisenhower’s quotes on the inscription wall, and the tapestry screen—are lit for dramatic effect through framing projectors mounted on 30-foot tall poles.
The stainless-steel woven tapestry, which lines one edge of the square, portrays an abstract depiction of the coast of Normandy on which American soldiers landed on D-Day. Lighting brings out the tapestry’s three-dimensionality, emphasizing the layered textural quality of its intricate weaving. The lighting of this focal element was extensively tested and refined in off-site mockups.
Designed and fabricated by Frank/Gehry Partners and Tomas Osinski, the 450-foot-long tapestry appears as a matte screen during the day, providing a translucent separation from the Department of Education building behind it. At night, the tapestry is washed in light from below, hitting the underside of each thread to make its raised depiction glow and rendering its surrounding canvas nearly invisible.
On the edge of the square, a small Support Building includes park facilities, an information desk, and bookstore. Lighting of the building is kept consistent with the ambient lighting of the square, allowing its facade, which matches with the stone of the plaza’s paving and the Memorial Core, to merge with the memorial and minimizing the building’s presence. L’Observatoire International adapted the city’s standard and prescribed street lighting surrounding the plaza, adjusting the color temperature to provide a coherent whole with the Memorial.
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial is part of a longstanding collaboration between Gehry Partners and L’Observatoire International. Over the last 20 years, the two firms have worked together on numerous internationally renowned buildings, including the Walt Disney Concert Hall and Fondation Louis Vuitton.
Lighting Designer: L’Obersvatoire International