October 31, 2012
mies louis
Mies, Life Magazine, 1956 (source)
FDR Four Freedoms Park, Louis Kahn (source)


Implicit in Buckminster Fuller’s query of ‘How much does your building weigh?’ is an appreciation of lightness in architecture. Enabled by the capabilities of modern materials—notably the alternately invisible or mirrored qualities of glass—and haunted by the minimalist spectre of Mies van der Rohe, a certain strain of buildings innovates by eliminating their presence almost entirely. This demonstrates a collective interest in ephemerality, with architecture operating as a platform for experience through the creation of temporary structures, pavilions, installations, exhibits, environments, and conditions. Such atmospheric constructions are matched by a diffusion of inquiry into a growing number of adjacent (and admirable) topics and specializations, distributing awareness across a wide range of networked issues. Firmitas—one of the triadic Vitruvian values, normally translated as ‘firmness’—indicates an ancient praise of sturdiness, mass, and permanence. Conversely, it seems that a goal of contemporary architecture is to disappear.


Jack Murphy


The FDR Four Freedoms Park in New York City, designed by the late Louis Kahn, opened to the public this month. The project is Kahn’s first posthumously completed work. Kahn, in fact, was carrying the finished plans with him when he was found dead in the men’s restroom in midtown’s Pennsylvania Station in 1974, en route home to Philadelphia from India. After his passing, the project advanced only to be abandoned due to issues of civic funding. Had the architect lived longer he might have revised his ideas, perhaps questioning the singular spaces of garden and room (or, given the financial conditions, forced to face the nasty realities of value engineering). Instead, the scheme was built with mostly private funding as designed, with the addition of a bronze bust of FDR at the tip of the park, splitting the entrance to the culminating room on the water. The resultant presence is tempered with anachronism as the memorial was designed for New York in the 1970s, vastly different than today’s sanitized metropolis. The effort could be read as a test to see if Kahn’s eternal values remain powerful almost forty years after his death. Regardless, the park has appeared, hovering above the East River, a welcome apparition of spiritual monumentality. Since Penn Station no longer exists, when in New York City, the triangular southern tip of Roosevelt Island is a fitting place to consult the ghost of Louis Kahn.


Andrew Fulcher


Edited by Jack Murphy




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