Louis Kahn’s Four Freedoms Park

Modern Home Tours co-founder and official photographer James Leasure was in New York City over the Thanksgiving holidays. Check out his thoughts on and shots of the newly-opened Four Freedoms Park, a four-acre memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt designed by architect Louis Kahn.

My first introduction to Louis Kahn was in San Diego 15 years ago. Perched high above the Pacific Ocean on the Torrey Pines mesa in La Jolla, CA, The Salk Institute is an imposing concrete structure that can’t help but impress. In the years I lived in San Diego, I was on the grounds of the Salk perhaps hundreds of times for dozens of reasons, but the structure itself always managed to become a centerpiece of any event with it’s stark grey concrete constrcution balanced perfectly with open space and linear feature detail that all combine to create one of the most original and dynamic architectural creations I have been able to experience.
I’m not living in San Diego anymore, but the holidays still mean travel in my family. Thanksgiving takes the form of an annual “pilgrimage” to Manhattan – the heart of New York City. As someone raised on the east coast and now living in Texas, I’m ready for some cold weather as November rolls around, and as a photographer, the trip to New York is a highlight of my year. Our family has an apartment there. It’s not particularly architecturally significant, but it’s a warm, inviting place with a fantastic view of many important landmarks, and perhaps more importantly in this instance, a tremendous view of the East River and Roosevelt Island. A few weeks ago, as I stepped out on the the balcony I looked over to Roosevelt island , as I have probably hundreds of times, and noticed something very different. The end of the island, which had previously featured nothing of note, was now a clean expanse of green grass, trees and, most surprising of all, shimmering grey concrete. I had no idea what it was, or when it had been built, though it looked oddly familiar to me, somehow. I thought for a moment that perhaps I had simply never noticed it before, but realized that was impossible. So the next morning I grabbed my camera and hopped the tram over to the island. While I rode, I did a little research and discovered that it was the Louis Kahn-designed Four Freedoms Park.

Designed just prior to his death in 1974, it took almost 30 years for the project to come to fruition, but the result is simply amazing. It’s a Louis Kahn design through and through, featuring many of the same theories, elements and precision I first came to adore 15 years ago and three thousand miles away on another coast. I didn’t have much time to shoot – it was Thanksgiving morning and there were things to be done (and football to watch, if I’m being honest). But I did manage to capture the essence of the place and I am looking forward to going back with my full bag of equipment next year. Meanwhile, if you find yourself in the NYC area, take the time to have a walk through the park. You’ll be glad you did.

For more information on Louis Kahn, and the Four Freedoms Park, check out these links:
Louis Kahn
Four Freedoms Park
FDR’s Four Freedoms Speech
Salk Institute

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