four freedoms

Four Freedoms Memorial2

Louis I. Kahn is widely considered one of the masters of 20th century architecture. Infusing the International-style with a poetic humanism his monumental, often monolithic, works respond to a human scale without hiding their weight, their materials, or even the manner in which they are assembled. They are not so much the work of a builder, as a philosopher. When Kahn was found dead of a heart attack inside the men’s restroom at New York’s Penn Station in 1974, his briefcase contained the completed renderings for a memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Four Freedoms Park, so named for the wartime speech in which the President 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 – would remain, like many of Kahn’s controversial proposals, unbuilt. Until now, that is. 38 years after plans for the park were first announced, the daunting project has been realized at the tip of Roosevelt Island, honoring the man who guided the nation through the Depression, the New Deal and a world war. It can’t help but be a de facto memorial to its author, too: an open room and garden at the bottom of the island, framing the United Nations and the Manhattan skyline. Allées of linden trees on either side define the green space and highlight the triangular shape of the site, emphasizing the feeling of a ships prow and forcing a perspective that draws focus to a colossal head of FDR at the threshold of the water. It’s magisterial in its simplicity, like a roofless version of a Greek temple. Unfortunately nobody has seemed to give any thought as to what visitors might actually do at the memorial. After a pleasant promenade there is little incentive to linger. The site abuts the ruins of New York City’s abandoned smallpox hospital; above that there is a nursing facility fallen into disrepair. If the powers behind the memorial don’t discover a way to synthesize the project with the surrounding island it might very well suffer the epithet Five Freedoms, due to a freedom from visitors.

Four Freedoms Memorial

Linden tree allee

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