Nearly 40 years after Welfare Island was renamed to honor President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), the Four Freedoms Park is nearly complete. The four-acre park, located on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island in New York City, honors the 32nd U.S. President and the four essential freedoms he believed in. The legendary architect Louis I. Kahn , FAIA (1901-1974) was commissioned to design the memorial in the early seventies and completed the design right before his unfortunate death in 1974. As New York City approached bankruptcy, the project was put on hold until March 29, 2010. Now, many are anxiously anticipating the park’s grand opening that will take place this Fall.
Continue after the break to learn about the story and design of Four Freedoms Park.
During a period of urban renewal in the late 1960s, New York City Mayor John Lindsay proposed reinvent the beloved island, stating: “It has long seemed to us that an ideal place for a memorial to FDR would be on Welfare Island, which…could be easily renamed in his honor… It would face the sea he loved, the Atlantic he bridged, the Europe he helped to save, the United Nations he inspired.” Therefore, in 1973, Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Mayor Lindsay announced the appointment of the internationally acclaimed Louis Kahn as the memorial’s architect.
Kahn, an admirer of Roosevelt, credited his ability to support his family during the early years of his practice to FDR, as housing and community planning projects part of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs made up much of his commissions. Throughout the design process, Kahn would spend much of the review meetings in reminiscing about Roosevelt and his policies.
One aspect of the Roosevelt philosophy that seemed especially powerful to Kahn was FDR’s belief that all disputes could be solved with a peaceful discussion, similarly to a family sitting around the dinner table. Kahn interpreted this concept with the creation of the “Room” – a 72-foot square plaza framed on three sides by 6-foot x 6-foot x 12-foot high granite columns, which is meant for peaceful contemplation and serves as the park’s final destination.
Kahn emphasized the triangular shape of the site and employed a “forces perspectival parti” to draw and focus the visitor’s attention to the colossal bronze head of FDR, located at the threshold of the ‘Room’. As visitors walk along the gently sloping, granite-paved promenades lined by large shade trees and separated by a vast garden, their attention remains indirectly focused on that final destination space.
The bronze sculpture of FDR was created by the great American portrait sculpture, Jo Davidson, who modeled it during Roosevelt’s first term in 1933. It stands out from the white granite, allowing visitors to see it from a distance.
Engraved on the granite walls of the “Room” and throughout the site are notable quotes taken from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s eminent Four Freedoms speech in January 6, 1941, as FDR looked forward to a world founded on these four human freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
Additionally, a navel theme guides Kahn’s design as a tribute to FDR’s love and connection to the sea. The symmetrical design is based off a centerline, following the standard in naval architecture. The final scheme acts as a prow to the island’s “boat”, looking out towards the city and the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean.
Kahn finished the design before he unexpectedly died from a heart attack in New York’s Penn Station. However, the project was placed on hold as the Governor became Vice President of the United States and the City of New York approached bankruptcy.
Thankfully, due to the efforts of family members, architects and many others, construction of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park began on March 29, 2010 – 38 years after its announcement.
The first granite foundations stones were laid in September of 2010 and the “Room” began to take shape in September 2011. This April, a stainless steel capsule containing memorabilia relating to the country’s 32nd president was buried on site. Now, as finishing touches are being completed and the Four Freedoms Park will celebrate it’s grand opening in October of this year – 40 years after the project was first initiated.
This will be the first Kahn structure in New York.
Four Freedoms Park, Narrated by Orson Welles: