Although the field of architecture continually changes with advances in technology and shifts in society and culture, there rest a few names that seem frozen in time, as their ideas will continually influence generations of architects to come. Of them, Louis Kahn has been revered as a master of the 20th century and soon, his memorial park design of the 1970s will finally be completed in New York. The memorial is named after FDR’s Four Freedoms speech from 1941 where he declares that “In the future days,….we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want–which, translated into universal terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants–everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world.” More about Kahn’s design after the break.
Back in 1973, Welfare Island was renamed Roosevelt Island to pay tribute to FDR. At that time, the southern tip of the island was set aside for Kahn’s Four Freedoms Park. It seemed fitting for Kahn to design the memorial, not only due to his talents but also because the architect was greatly fond of the President, and credited FDR’s New Deal programs with enabling him to support his family during the early years of his architecture practice.
For the memorial park, Kahn emphasizes the site’s dramatic triangular shape and employs his characteristic forced perspectival parti. Visitors walk along paths running across the east and west sides of the island where they can proceed directly along the river’s edge by way of granite-paved promenades. A triangular lawn defined by a row of Little Leaf Linden trees, called the “Garden”, gently slopes down toward the end of the island. While the Garden and the promenades will be areas of activity, Kahn quickly transitions to a space meant for peaceful contemplation. The “Room”, a 72-foot square plaza contained on three sides by 6-foot x 6-foot x 12-foot high granite columns, will contain excerpts from the text of President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech. “The materials of the Park are those of a timeless civic place: granite and trees are organized to create both space and mass. Ornament comes in the form of light and shadow. As in all Kahn’s work, there is deliberate use of strong geometry and axial relationships whose composition and construction create a stable, reassuring, and contemplative setting. Being “inside” the park reveals the water, the United Nations, the skyline, the sky and, finally, the people who share the experience,” explained the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park website. When Kahn suddenly died in 1974, his plans for the memorial almost became forgotten. An exhibition at the MoMA years later in 1992 sparked interest in Kahn’s memorial and, soon ,people began advocating for its completion. In 2008, Mitchell + Giurgola Architects took charge of the project to ensure that the memorial looks just as Kahn envisioned it while also slightly adjusting some elements to make it meet standard code requirements.
This past Monday, Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg welcomed the Granite Foundation Stones for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park as 24 monolithic stones, measuring 12 feet x 6 feet x 6 feet and weighing 36 tons each, were off-loaded by crane and placed onto the site to form the Room’s foundation. As the Architect’s Newspaper reported, Mayor Bloomberg commented, “We have added hundreds of acres of new parkland to New York City in the last nine years, but Four Freedoms Park, in the shadow of the United Nations Secretariat building, has a special significance,” Bloomberg said. “I think this is more than just a park. I really do think that this is to remind us of somebody, who at a pivotal point in our history, rallied the country.”