Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms State Park is a public memorial to former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose term lasted from March 4, 1933 to April 12, 1945.
Construction of the Park, following architect Louis Kahn’s original design, began March 29, 2010, and was completed on budget and on schedule in September 2012. The dedication ceremony was held on October 17, 2012, with President William J. Clinton, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Ambassador vanden Heuvel participating. At the ceremony FDR Four Freedoms Park was officially designated a New York State park by Governor Cuomo. The Park opened to the public on October 24, 2012.
Louis I. Kahn is widely considered one of the masters in the pantheon of 20th century architects.
His seminal works helped define Modernism: the Yale University Art Gallery, and the Yale Center for British Arts in New Haven, Connecticut, the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, the Capital City in Bangladesh, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, and the library at Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. All display his masterful use of bold geometric forms, the skillful manipulation of natural light, and the artistic control of architectural expression to create a richly layered spatial experience.
Kahn revered President Roosevelt. He credited FDR for enabling him to support his family during the early years of his architecture practice through housing and community planning projects that were part of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. Kahn shared Roosevelt’s desire to enrich the lives of all people. During design review meetings for Four Freedoms Park, conversations often veered off topic, becoming nuanced discussions of Roosevelt and his policies.
Kahn’s design makes perfect use of the triangular shape of the Park’s site, emphasizing it, and employing what could be called a forced perspectival parti to draw and focus the visitor’s gaze toward the colossal head of Roosevelt at the threshold to the “Room.” Underlying Kahn’s design is a naval theme, a nod, perhaps, to Roosevelt’s love of and connection to the sea, and to the unique location of the site. The Park design is symmetrical, and the construction drawings themselves are dimensioned off a centerline, as is standard in naval architecture.
A sketch of an earlier iteration of the design shows a floating, tug and barge-like structure against the skyline of the city. The final scheme acts as a prow to the island’s “boat.”
Jo Davidson is considered one of the most renowned American sculptors of the twentieth century. He spent his career sculpting visionaries like Albert Einstein, Gertrude Stein (whose portrait-sculpture is on permanent display in Bryant Park, New York City), Helen Keller, and Walt Whitman. In December of 1933 Jo Davidson arrived in Washington D.C., by invitation from Sara Roosevelt, to sculpt a bust of President Roosevelt. Davidson worked quickly and completed the final piece in one to two visits. Davidson would go on to complete many sculptures of the president at many different scales and the two men became friends and kept in touch for many years.