The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park was the final design Louis I. Kahn worked on before he died suddenly of a heart attack in the bathroom of Penn Station in 1974. The park is also Kahn’s only work in New York City and the only memorial dedicated to FDR in his home state of New York. For more of the park’s history, which is really quite fascinating, please read our previous posts about it.
One of Kahn’s original sketches of the park courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Though seemingly simple in its design, the park, which sits at the southernmost tip of Roosevelt Island, has received acclaim from some of the city’s toughest architecture critics, and after a visit last week, we were really able to see why many are calling it NYC’s “new spiritual heart.” After meandering across Roosevelt Island, we made our way past the dilapidated and overgrown Renwick Ruin Smallpox Hospital when we finally saw it – a massive granite staircase that seemed to lead up to the sky.
Upon actually climbing the stairway, we saw that it opened up to an immaculate lawn that stretches almost too far to see what is at the end. But we already knew what was there (only because we’d seen renderings of it), and it took a large portion of self-restraint to keep from running down the center of the grass and doing cartwheels on our way to see it. The park’s location and shape give visitors the empowering, energizing sensation of being on a ship that is headed somewhere important and adventurous.
Inside the “Room,” a meditative space at the end of the park which was inspired by FDR’s belief that any problem between individuals or nations could be solved by them sitting together to discuss things peacefully as around the family dining room table.
Kahn’s vision was to set the giant 6′ x 6′ x 12′ granite stones that make up the Room just 1″ apart from one another, and the park’s builders were able to achieve this ambitious goal.
“Memorials take time,” William vanden Heuvel, a former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and the founder of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute that revived the Four Freedoms Park project, told us last week. “Lincoln died in 1865 and his memorial was completed in 1922, so we’re ahead of the game.”
The park’s “riprap” (a rock barrier that armors the edge of an island) was set by hand and is made up of 11,000 cubic yards of hand-placed granite gneiss, 65% of which was recycled from the site.
After today, the park will be open on Thursday-Sunday from 9am-5pm. If you need directions to Four Freedoms Park, here they are.
For more views and observations from inside the park, please click through our photo gallery.
Photos © Yuka Yoneda, except where noted.