This symbol on the dollar bill, added by Roosevelt, may have inspired the triangular shape of the president's memorial park
When the American architect
Some of these drawings will be on display in
Some of these sketches, scribbled in pencil and charcoal with a scruffy energy, depict a box, from which extends a long, tapering, indistinct landscape. Others feature a strangely geometric comet leaving a misty trail of trees in its wake. Others still show a truncated triangle capped with what could be an all-seeing eye, much like the sinister Great Seal on the back of
It was US president (and freemason)
Unlike the axial avenues, the classical tempiettos and the manicured lawns favoured in
Tall granite blocks line the edge of this open-topped deck, which is reached via a narrowing lawn that slopes gently downwards , bordered by lime trees. It is a composition of elemental simplicity but with immense spatial power: it's a bit like being all alone in a room at the very end of the earth, with the entire world focused behind you to a single point. "I had this thought that a memorial should be a room and a garden, that's all I had," said Kahn in 1973. "The garden is somehow a personal kind of control of nature. And the room was the beginning of architecture."
From this basic pairing, Kahn developed a finely nuanced landscape that draws its impact from strong shifts in perspective and an almost stage-set theatricality. You enter from the north, past the crumbling gothic ruins of an old smallpox hospital, to be greeted by an imposing set of steps. Nothing of the park is revealed until you walk up them. Then the lawn and trees appear to shoot off into the distance, squeezed towards a bronze head of FDR at the end of the island, contained within a spacious granite box. Inscribed on the back of this is Roosevelt's famous speech, in which he set out the four freedoms everyone in the world should enjoy: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Delivered in 1941, its purpose was to persuade Americans to enter the second world war.
The park has the feel of an ancient temple precinct, but with the unusual sensation that the land is falling away from you as you head towards the sacred shrine, rather than rising towards a hallowed mount. Look back - across an oasis of sunbathing bodies and dreaming couples on a hot summer's day - and the perspective has the opposite effect. The view is dramatically compressed: the triangular lawn now seems square, while the hospital ruins provide an eerie backdrop, poking up behind a line of copper beech trees.
As the climax of this composition, the granite room is intended to be a place of contemplation, reminiscent of the Pacific-facing plaza of the
"Consider the momentous event in architecture when the wall parted and the column became," Kahn would say mystically to his students, when he wasn't telling them to talk to bricks. Half wall, half colonnade, this monolithic enclosure can be seen, in Kahn's eyes anyway, as the beginnings of architecture itself. Surprisingly, though, this most monumental of architects never managed to realise a monument in his own lifetime. Although he penned memorials for such diverse subjects as Lenin, the Louisiana Purchase and the Six Million Jewish Martyrs, none came to fruition. Abandoned in the 1970s, when city funds were not forthcoming, the
Much of the credit for its creation should go to
While the park project only occupies a small part of the
As river swirls past, Pollara walks back through the granite room to the garden. "This place stands as a memorial not only to FDR and the New Deal," she says, "but to Kahn himself."
spatial power . . . clockwise from main, the
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