Saturday, March 29, 2008

FDR Memorial: When a 360 View is Considered a Loss

"The idea that you have to have that 360-degree open view throughout your experience, I find to be sort of a loss, actually" - Paul Broches, Mitchell-Giurgola (Successor Architects to Louis Kahn)

This past Tuesday, I sat along with perhaps a hundred of our neighbors, and watched Gina Pollara, of FERI, and Paul Broches present to the Roosevelt Island community several new renderings of the Louis Kahn designed FDR Memorial. To say they are not impressive would be a lie. I am looking at them now in this week's Main Street WIRE and I again am left with that same impression. My main issues all along regarding this memorial have been the affect on the panoramic views afforded by Southpoint Park as it currently sits.

Video from the event can be found at as well as at the RIOC web page. I suggest the PressHD site as the coverage is provided in digestable chunks as opposed to one huge video.

These concerns have been evidenced by the posters I created which included cartoon trees representing my fear that the views would be obscured. Nothing at this past week's meeting assuaged that fear. I did find it encouraging that Mr. Broches stated that the design can afford utilizing trees which are more transparent allowing visitors to not feel as closed in and that his firm and/or FERI were looking into that possibility. I think they agreed to this not so much due to resident concerns as something eas mentioned that they may believe that the previously designated Linden trees may not be suited for the weather we have here. I won’t argue.

The renderings presented as I mentioned above are impressive and overall if built will be quite a commanding memorial. I spent last weekend near Washington D.C. and we spent part of one day on the Mall so I can appreciate what FERI is trying to accomplish as FDR does deserve to be memorialized and it is crazy that this island does not already have some sort of memorial to FDR after all these years. The question as many folks keep asking is this memorial the right memorial and is it right for this location. My fellow blogger Rick at the Roosevelt Islander has been among one of the most vocal these past months.

The choice of Southpoint overlooking the water and the United Nations does make a lot of sense and I can even understand the design as the V shaped “summit” flanked by the trees will direct the visitor down to the forecourt and sculpture court and then onto the “room”. The trees by blocking or obscuring the panoramic views only heightens the beauty of a full panoramic view once you reach the “room” at the southern tip of the memorial. So to my understanding I do get one aspect of the complexity Mr. Broches described.

The problem as I see it is that while I have no disbelief that all of the architects and FERI folks have walked the location many times, which some residents highly doubted, the architects can’t see it as we do. They see it as a canvas and an opportunity to honor a man on an island that is long overdue. They have not lived here day after day for the years that the residents have who have come to see the full 360-degree views as part of what defines the island and in part their own identity.

Certainly the residents understand that the current state of the park was formed for this memorial but as no memorial has materialized the residents have come to adopt and look upon the space, which was created partially from subway excavation landfill, as the last major green space promised to them under the GDP where many other such spaces has been stolen for other purposes.

The statements made by resident proponents and opponents of the Kahn design were all quite forceful and demonstrated how deeply for those individuals this issue has come to represent life here on the island. I strongly urge everyone to read the article in the WIRE to get a feel for those reactions. My earlier post about transportation issues, which was linked to the by the NY Times City Room blog, was a direct result of my neighbor Joan Markey’s comments and fears regarding the possible number of tourists that may come for the memorial which I share.

RIOC President Stephen Shane commented at the meeting that the views of the residents may be considered as a political issue but ultimately New York State entered into an agreement to allow memorial to be built and that the memorial envisioned was the current one designed by Louis Kahn. The question for many is can FERI raise the money in time and can construction begin before Phase I of the Wild Gardens segment, to be built by the Trust for Public Lands, as part of the larger Southpoint park project, reaches a point where to move FDR Memorial construction materials and equipment through it would cause that park segment harm.

Many comments were made at the meeting regarding the design of the memorial, and many not just about the trees, including issues of safety regarding the “room”. To be honest while the 12 foot high panels do obscure the view into the room it is similar in nature to the current “lower” area down the stairs at the extreme end of the island now where to see what is occurring down there one has to physically go to the stairs to look down as one would have to walk around the walls / panels. Either way public safety should be patrolling the area and monitoring its use.

Overall I don’t expect in this economy that FERI will raise the funds in time before the TPL Phase 1 is complete even if that segment takes two years to complete. This project has been on the books for 30 plus years and the interest has apparently not been there to secure 40 million in funds yet I am bettiung against it happening. The concept of securing public monies is absurd in today’s world as what politician is going to argue for the funds, despite its possible worthiness, in the face of constituents who feel otherwise. True the planned upcoming survey may give us a clearer picture of at least what residents think. Perhaps I am wrong and some big anonymous donor will save FERI’s day or some politician arguing the merit of what FDR represents can squeeze 30million out of the budget as 30 milion is not really that much.

My own views are that I enjoy the park as it stands today immensely as it is one of the truly untamed areas left in NYC that I can take my kids too and they can see the larger world around them at the same exact moment. If the memorial is built we will still be down there as it is envisioned trees or not. Will something be lost. Certainly. Will something be gained. Certainly. Which is greater I can not yet say. But I can say that the loss would be felt even if Mr. Broches feels otherwise.


  1. As I look at the picture, it looks looks like I also want to go there. My dream in life is to travel all around the beautiful places in the world.


  2. go get a life you moron