The first time I heard of the Four Freedoms Park in New York was when it was shortlisted in the architecture category at this year’s Design Museum’s Designs of The Year – in fact in a fit of overexcitement I tipped it to win. But last week I was lucky enough to visit the park which sits just off the Manhattan shoreline on Roosevelt Island, and you know what I don’t take it back, because this is a really stunning project.
First conceived by architect Louis Kahn in the early 1970s to commemorate one of America’s most iconic presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt, delays and financial issues meant that park only opened last year, some 40 years after the idea was first mooted. But my goodness was it worth the wait – because Kahn’s brilliance and the determination and vision of those who have made it a reality have combined in spectacular fashion.
The grandiose entry staircase gives away to a meticulously plotted central area with a lawn flanked by symmetrical rows of trees, leading down to “the room” – an oasis of cool granite surrounding a statue of the President and an excerpt of the famous “four freedoms” speech with which Roosevelt persuaded his country to enter the Second World War.
Sited opposite the United Nations building – itself a product of the ideas espoused in Roosevelt’s address to the nation – the park is a triumph purely in architectural terms. But thrillingly it also boats a series of visual tricks Kahn plays within his creation. So from one end the triangular lawn looks perfectly rectangular, light falls into the room and plays out an interesting pattern on the floor and on the walkways people walking away genuinely appear to be shrinking rather than receding into the distance.
If you live in New York go, if you are visiting New York go, hell go anyway – this park proves just how cleverly even small, unassuming urban spaces can be used.