On Tuesday, Four Freedoms Park attended FRIENDS of the Upper East Side Historic Districs' 30th Annual Meeting & Awards Ceremony at the Park Avenue Armory. Carter Wiseman presented us with the Distinctive Achievement Award. We're thrilled and honored to have received such an award!
Here are Carter Wiseman's beautiful words he shared before presenting the award..
While I was working on my biography of Louis Kahn, which was published in 2007, several people asked me if I was going to write about the architect's many unexecuted projects, including his memorial to Franklin Roosevelt, here in New York. I said no. I rather breezily explained my feelings at the time that works of architecture that are finished by others after the designer's death usually betray the original idea in some way. How wrong I was!
The structure that we are honoring today on Roosevelt Island is, I think, one of Kahn's finest works. Although designed more than 40 years ago, and since refined in minor ways, it is nevertheless a distillation of what I feel is best about Kahn's architecture. Indeed, it is as if Kahn had returned to us with an urgent message during our current period of architectural disarray, with its focus on marquee names over substance. The message is about architecture's essential values: the respect for site, the honor due to enduring materials, the potential of monumentality, the importance of historical resonance, and--above all--the power of simple forms inspired by deeply felt emotions.
One of Kahn's former associates told me while I was working on my book that, "For Lou, every building was a temple." This architect said that Kahn considered his Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California to be a temple for science, that the assembly building in Bangladesh was a temple for government, and that at the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire was a temple for learning.
As you know, Kahn emigrated as a child from Estonia, a country then ruled by Russian czars, and came of age artistically in this country during a time of economic depression and a world war against totalitarianism. I think it is not too much to consider the Roosevelt memorial to be Kahn's temple for freedom. I can imagine no better finale to the career of one of history's great architects. New York--a city Kahn always felt was overly concerned with money and power compared to his adopted Philadelphia--is especially blessed to have such a place of worship.
The feeling seems to extend beyond our own species. Gina Pollara, the indomitable Executive Director of the Four Freedoms project, told me about a stange event. It seemed that during construction, a Harbor Seal took up residence on the little rock outcropping just south of Roosevelt Island, as if to monitor the progress of the work. The seal was there long enough for the construction crew to discuss giving the visitor a name. One option was "Frank," for Roosevelt. The other was "Lou." A vote was taken. Lou won.
The seal has gone, but the spirits of both Frank and Lou are with us for keeps, and joined in a place of special beauty.