During his lifetime, American architect Louis Kahn rose to prominence for his visionary work, building a worldwide legacy that would long outlive him. Shortly after he passed away in 1974, architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable told the New York Times that “Louis Kahn was an architect to whom stones spoke, spaces ‘wanted to be.’” FDR Four Freedoms State Park became one of those spaces. Built almost forty years after it was designed, the Park stands as a monument to the Four Freedoms and human rights, as both Kahn and President Franklin D. Roosevelt were committed to enriching the lives of all people. While we can engage with FDR’s legacy through one of the various measures he established, like social security, how do we do this with Kahn’s?
You can start by simply visiting the structures he designed. Kahn’s work helped define modernism in architecture, and while he used modern techniques, his designs are timeless. Something you might notice straight away is how he plays with light. Manipulating natural light was a big theme in his work, as well as using bold geometric forms and creating a layered spatial experience. His work also frequently plays with perspective and depth of field. All of these themes play a big part of his design of FDR Four Freedoms State Park.
The Park directly overlooks the water and its design reflects its geographic location, Kahn’s love of the water, and his commitment to honoring FDR’s vision for universal human rights. In a nod to who and what it memorializes, the Park has “a forced perspectival parti to draw and focus the visitor's gaze toward the colossal head of Roosevelt.” Free and open to the public, the Park allows everyone to see and participate in Kahn’s vision.
During his administration, Roosevelt’s policies helped the country back into economic stability. In today’s politically turbulent world where most of us spend a significant time behind a screen (particularly in a big, bustling city like New York), visiting FDR Four Freedoms State Park provides people two important things: a reminder that every person is deserving of basic human rights, and an opportunity to unplug and enjoy public, open space.