Louis Kahn’s iconic sketch of Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. Credit: Louis I. Kahn Collection, University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
On the last day of the semester, AAP NYC students had the chance to go visit Louis Kahn’s posthumous work to be built in New York City – the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Memorial on the tip of Roosevelt Island set to open in Fall 2012 and currently under construction. We came to the island early in the morning to Roosevelt Island, where waiting for us was Gina Pollara; the Executive Director of the four freedoms park corporation set up by eighty one year old former U.S Ambassador William vanden Heuvel. Gina Pollara showed us some of the renderings of the project and told us the history of how Kahn died in Pennsylvania Station in 1974 before this project could be completed. He had, however completed all the drawing up until construction documentation for the project which was taken up again by Vanden Heuvel almost twenty years later and is now being built after a long fund-raising and approvals process. Gina Pollara told us they needed almost eighteen different permission to be able to build on the island, including from the Army Corps of Engineers and that ten years were simply involved in garnering enough funds. The project is being built exactly as Kahn designed it with minor changes such an increased height on the island due to tidal waves and the need to keep up to date with the latest building codes.
Kahn’s design called for a monumental staircase leading up to a wide lawn flanked by two rows of linden trees, which converged on what Kahn called a “room” of silvery-gray granite at the tip of the island. The roofless room would have three twelve-foot walls and would be open toward the water and the view of the city. The architectural firm of Mitchell/Giurgola (a firm which had worked with Kahn when he was alive), along with the Weidlinger Associates, and Langan Engineering who were both on the original project were brought in to figure out how to get the project built. This challenge became even greater when the engineers realized that climate change had raised the water level of the East River by about four inches in the years since Kahn made his design. The project team hence set the level of the monument fifteen inches above where Kahn had placed it.
Plan of Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park
Construction has come along quite a bit in the last few months. The stairs leading up to the park with linden trees and the room at the end is complete. There is only the center portion with the grass, some lighting and the circular stone paving with dirt in the middle where the trees are placed left to be finished. We walked up the mounds of earth on the site to a small niche that led to the granite ‘room’ at the end. When you pass the niche, you enter a walled space that is open to the south, in which you feel almost as if you were floating on the river. The enormous blocks of granite, each of which weighs thirty-six tons, are set an inch apart, so that slivers of light pass between them, providing tiny slits of the view. The sides are polished, a detail that intensifies the light, and the blocks are mounted so that they appear to hover just above the ground. Like all of Kahn’s best work, the memorial is abstract, simple, and powerful.
On the day we went to visit the memorial, construction workers were etching in to the stone the Four Freedoms Speech given by Roosevelt on January 6, 1941. It is the speech that shaped this nation and which is the cornerstone of the United Nations as Gina Pollara told us, hence the room at the end also looks out to the UN building on the nearby Manhattan shoreline.
Roosevelt had looked forward to a world founded on four human freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. By building Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, the Four Freedoms Foundation hopes to honor this man and these essential freedoms. The part of the speech the carved in to the stone on the site is given below:
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, 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 world 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.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.