The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park located in Roosevelt Island might not be on the top ten list of things to do in New York City but this beautifully designed space gives you a rare view of New York City in more ways than one. Located on the southern tip of Roosevelt island and designed by world renowned architect Louis I. Kahn the Four Freedoms Memorial Park is a true testament of perseverance and of the triumph of a good design solution, that was simply meant to be. Concieved by Kahn just before his unexpected death in 1974 the park was finally built almost 40 years later in 2012.
On my last trip to New York visiting the Four Freedoms park was at the top of my list. As an architect I learned about Louis Kahn and his work and have been an admirer of his architecture since my college years. The story of his sudden death in Penn station almost felt as an urban legend when I first read about it and the fact that this park, his last design and his only work in New York city was finally built a few years ago, 38 years after his death just gives this park such a sense of mystery. It’s almost like a modern day legend.
I was in NYC attending a conference and decide to steal a few hours and head on to Roosevelt Island. I took the train and as I started my 15 minute walk to the southern tip of the island it began to drizzle. The last couple of days had been filled with activities, meetings, presentations and people, so many people in the conference, in the busy Manhattan streets, people everywhere. Now suddenly I found myself walking alone along the East River. The stone path along the water lined with trees and benches on one side and the brown water of the river and Manhattan skyline on the other side.
As I reached the D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Memorial Park I was greeted by a line of mature copper beech of trees. The park is surrounded by a white granite walls that lift up this open space as if it where on a pedestal. To reach the site a 100 ft wide staircase comes to meet you and as I climbed it the park revealed itself to me slowly.
At the center of the park a sloping lawn flanked by rows of little leaf linden trees stretches out to the tip of the island creating a visual effect that makes the park seem longer and creates a exaggerated perspective; the rows of trees coming together and directing your eyes towards the a white granite wall where a bust of Frankling D. Roosevelt becomes the focal point.
The austere simplicity and serenity of the place give it almost a religious feeling. You truly feel transported and even though you are just few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan the sense of peace that you get as you walk along the rows of little leaf linden trees is almost magical. The walk there from the tram or subway station along the riverbank makes it the perfect place to visit if you are looking for a quite and relaxing escape, it is definitely not a destination for those looking for the excitement.
The spectacular East River views are enhanced and brought to life by the trees. The contrast between the park designed to create a roofless space referred to by Kahn as the “room”, by using the simple elements like trees, the white granite paths and walls makes an interesting contrast withe the Manhattan skyline where the Chrysler building and the UN stand creating a wall of concrete, glass and metal.
Kahn’s design not only brings to life a neglected piece of land at the tip of Roosevelt Island that had remained covered in rubble for years, it is also a testament that the right design is timeless. Reminiscent of a ship’s prow the park seemed to me as if it was making it’s way through the churning waves of the east river, sailing out into the ocean in the direction of the Statue of Liberty.
How to Get There
Take the Roosevelt Island tram from 59th Street and 2nd Avenue for some great aerials views before you arrive. You an also take the F train to the Roosevelt Island stop. It’s a short and scenic walk south from there along the river to the park. You can also take the bus to Roosevelt Island.