A Park 40 Years in the Making

At Contract, we spend a lot of time visiting, reading, writing, and thinking about interiors. Make no mistake: Interiors are our focus. But now that spring is finally, truly, here, we also enjoy getting outdoors and experiencing parts of our city that are new to us.

On a recent rainy weekend, I visited Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island. The park, which serves as a memorial to the 32nd President of the United States, occupies the southern tip of this narrow island in the middle of the East River. Part of the allure of visiting is taking the tram above the river. One could also take the subway, but breathtaking city views always win out over subterranean darkness.

Though Four Freedoms Park opened in late 2012, it was designed four decades ago by architect Louis Kahn, just before his death. It is his last work and his only built work in New York. A team including New York–based Mitchell/Giurgola Architects finally brought his concept to reality. This concept is simple and elegant: Monumental stairs lead to a green lawn flanked by granite walls that angle to the point of the island and the focal point of the park—an open-air room. “The Room” is defined by enormous blocks of granite from North Carolina. The blocks, claimed to weigh 36 tons each, frame views down the river from Manhattan—including the United Nations complex—to Queens.

In his review for the New York Times, critic Michael Kimmelman calls Four Freedoms Park “a belated and monumental triumph for New York and for everyone who cares about architecture and public space.” The images below provide a sense of these spaces, but they must be experienced in person to truly be appreciated.

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