Four Freedoms Park / Louis Kahn

On September 24th, 1973, Nelson A. Rockefeller, Governor of New York, and John V. Lindsay, Mayor of New York City, invited 800 guests for the renaming of Welfare Island to Roosevelt Island in honor of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and former Governor Averell Harriman spoke at the ceremony and announced their plans for a memorial that would be built on the four southernmost acres of the island and that Louis Kahn would design the park. Kahn’s design for the park was completed in 1974 but he died unexpectedly of a heart attack and at the time New York City verged on bankruptcy and the project was put on hold for almost thirty years. After Louis Kahn’s son, Nathaniel, produced a documentary about his father’s work entitled “My Architect”, interest was regenerated to begin fund raising mostly from the private sector.

Approach to the stairs and the triangular lawn

Stainless steel scroll handrail detail

The park was built with absolute precision by a passionate construction crew who were guided and motivated by the genius of Louis Kahn’s design for this project. The memorial is a distillation of Kahn’s thoughts on architecture and pure form. The project was built in phases beginning with the south end or “The Room” as it was named by Kahn where Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms are inscribed into the massive slabs of granite. These 36-ton slabs are placed one inch apart and become a floating, contemplative space anchored by the buildings of the United Nations. The granite disappears into the sky on a gray day and becomes one with the water and on a clear day the stunning whiteness of the stone contrasts the blue sky and the city’s colors.

The triangular lawn framed by allees of Littleleaf Linden trees
Littleleaf Linden tree walk to the “Room” and Roosevelt bronze sculpture
The colossal bronze of President Roosevelt by Jo Davidson
The Four Freedoms inscribed on the reverse side of the Roosevelt sculpture inside “The Room”

Inside “The Room” facing west
Inside “The Room” facing south
Detail of the 36-ton granite blocks placed one inch apart

The scale of the granite blocks and the meaning of everything about architecture that Kahn contends with is captured in the design of the park: majesty, shelter, protection, perspective, relativity, and history. But it must be experienced to fully perceive this work that will continue to inspire all who visit.

Exiting the park through one of the forced receding perspectives created by the sloped garden plane
Aerial view of the Four Freedoms Park from the Roosevelt Island Tram

The Four Freedoms Park can be accessed by the Roosevelt Island Tram and the Queens bound F train. Details at www.fdrfourfreedomspark.org

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