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Roosevelt Island : a place I’d rather be

In such weird and difficult times, thinking about a blog post was not easy. The uncertainty of what will happen next and the increasing number of infected people with Covid-19 in New York is truly scary for all of us. So I questioned myself: where would I like to be right now? My first thought was: Roosevelt Island. Even though I love the place where I live right now, I don’t have any parks nearby. That’s challenging because sometimes even going for a walk is such an effort. That led me to think about the place where I would like to live in New York.

Roosevelt Island would be the perfect place. Even though it’s technically a part of Manhattan, the island is almost completely isolated from it.

Once called Blackwell Island and then Welfare Island, it housed insane asylums, hospitals, and prisons. Just before you walk into the Four Freedoms Park, you’ll pass by the ruins of the Smallpox Hospital, which was once the first American hospital dedicated to the treatment of infectious diseases.

Located at the opposite end of the island, close to the North Point Lighthouse, there’s the Octagon. This 19-century masterpiece was built as an island retreat and then turned into a hospital years after. The building that once impressed Charles Dickens, was recently refashioned as a luxury housing.

The island has always offered nice riverside walks without crowds and unobstructed views to Manhattan’s  Upper East Side. But recently, the new ferry stop, the Cornell Tech campus, and the Four Freedoms Park gave the island refreshing energy.

The island was once a neglected place, mostly due to the shadow of the Queensboro Bridge over the uniform housing without glimmer.

The highlight of the island is definitely the Four Freedoms Park. It’s the first memorial dedicated to former president Franklyn D. Roosevelt and it’s also the last work of Louis Kahn. Its name derives from a January 6th, 1941 speech delivered by Roosevelt in which he described his vision for a world founded on four essential human freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. “Freedom”, Roosevelt declared, ” means the supremacy of human rights everywhere.”

Kahn was a huge admirer of the president. The architect credited the president for enabling him to support his family during the early days of his architectural practice, though housing and community planning projects that were a part of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs.

In a lecture given at the Pratt Institute, Kahn said: ” I had this thought that a memorial should be a room and a garden. That’s all I had. Why did I want a room and a garden? I just chose it to be the point of departure. The garden is somehow a personal nature, a personal kind of control of nature, a gathering of nature. And the room was the beginning of architecture. I had this sense, you see, and the room wasn’t just architecture, but was an extension of self.”

Kahn’s design emphasizes the triangular shape of the park’s site, at the south end of the island. It employs a forced perspective to draw and focus the visitor’s attention to a colossal sculpture of Roosevelt’s head by Jo Davidson at the threshold of the “Room”.  The granite terrace sits beyond the artwork, creating a contemplative space about the president’s words engraved in one of the stones.

The architect died short after completing the park’s design and funding issues prevented the construction for 38 years.

Thinking about Roosevelt’s words and Kahn’s goal of making the world a better place for all inspire me to set goals for my future and thinking positive right now.

If you’re reading this, I hope you and our family are safe and well 🙂

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Sofia Melo

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