Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park

Architect Louis I. Kahn

Louis Kahn

Louis I. Kahn, FAIA (1901-1974)

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."

Photo: Kahn during a lecture and discussion with students at the University of Pennsylvania, c. 1970.  Louis I. Kahn Collection, University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Photograph by Robert Lautman.