Monday, September 15, 2008

Curbed Readers Chime In On Kahn/FDR Memorial Site Control Boondoggle - Who Cares About Roosevelt Island?

Image from NY Times

Our friends at Curbed and some of their readers have thoughts on the Kahn/FDR memorial.
The long-delayed Franklin Roosevelt memorial planned for the southern tip of Roosevelt Island took a step forward yesterday, much to the chagrin of blogger Roosevelt Islander, who has been campaigning against the land-grabbing memorial for eons...
Some comments from Curbed readers include:
I don't understand what kind of idiot could be against this incredibly beautiful memorial. (Louis Kahn was such a talent!)
I agree with the above. What is the case against building the memorial. Possible arguments I can think of:

1. FDR doesn't deserve a memorial. His memory should be damned by generations of Americans.

2. The site is a bad place for a memorial because FDR had no connection to New York or to Roosevelt Island, or to the United Nations that the memorial would face. OK.

3. The site is a bad place for a memorial because the memorial would block traffic, create noise, get rid of a much loved local landmark (the memorial would be at the currently blocked off southern tip of an island where 8,000 people live, mostly in the northern section).

4. The design is ugly (the design was created years ago by Louis Kahn).

The blogger is obviously passionate about this, but I"m really curious to find out his argument against it. Maybe he is a diehard Republican. Or maybe he thinks the site is better suited for a prison or a waste incinerator.
Other comments are along the lines of who cares about Roosevelt Island and accuse me of "vituperative, yellow journalism".

I responded on Curbed as follows:
It's always nice to be called an idiot by individuals as well informed as the prior two posters.

The issue is not as simple as portrayed by posters above. You ask how can anyone object to a memorial designed by Louis Kahn to FDR? Simple, Mr. Kahn designed this memorial in the early 1970's when Roosevelt Island was a very different place than it is now.

In 1973 there was no residential community on Roosevelt Island but now in the 21st century we are a neighborhood of approximately 12 thousand people and still growing with great need for park land, green space as well as open unobstructed waterfront views and access. Instead, what we get is the Kahn Memorial, and let's not fool anyone it is the Kahn not the FDR memorial, with it's concrete and granite replacing grass and open waterfront view. Amazingly, the design intentionally obstructs the existing panoramic 360 degree views of the NYC skyline and East River waterfront from Southpoint Park and the current architect and Kahn worshippers thinks that is a good thing.

It's not just us unsophisticated, stupid Roosevelt Islanders who despair at what this design does to Southpoint Park. Consider this description of the Louis Kahn/FDR memorial by prominent art critic Thomas B. Hess, a self described friend of Kahn and admirer of Franklin Roosevelt. (From Page 648-649 of Robert AM Stern's book New York 1960).
This is the sort of political edifice that the Italian fascists loved and Speer perfected for the glory of the Third Reich... The site itself is treated heartlessly. What was a modest, picturesquely rugged shoreline has been disciplined to straight lines and symetrical angles that have no significance beyond the alarming one of man's ability to impose a meaningless geometry on nature. The ultimate irony is that Roosevelt, who fought totalitarians to the death, is commemorated in the harsh style propogated by the dictators.
How would any of you like that dumped in your neighborhood? Too much of Roosevelt Island park space has already been paved over and greenery removed.

Nobody, including myself, is opposed to a memorial to FDR. I, and many other residents of Roosevelt Island are only opposed to this particular design because it is a memorial to Louis Kahn and not to FDR. I would love to have a memorial to FDR on Roosevelt Island but something that truly honors his memory and work as the FDR memorial in Washington DC does.

There is also the question of whether the organization promoting this memorial is qualified to handle such an undertaking given their previous 35 years of failure and the current decrepit condition of the FDR Memorial Library in New Hyde Park for which they are the "non- profit" funding arm. See link below.

Please take the time to learn the facts involved in this issue. It is obvious that you don't know them. For instance the proposed site is not closed or blocked off from the population but is easily accessible for all to enjoy one of the most beautiful waterfront and skyline views in all of New York City.

Finally, as if it makes any difference, I am not a Republican and have been a supporter Barack Obama for President since last January.

For those interested in learning more, here is a typical post on subject.

I apologize to Curbed and its readers for the length of this post.
This battle is not over yet. More to come.


Anonymous said...

How anyone can possibly be advocating the dedication of valuable land and resources to the glorification of an architect - no matter how great (or not) - at the significant cost and negative impact on the Island - in this current market, is beyond me.

The design is 40 years old, the concept developed at a time when the prevailing trend was to segregate/separate the community from its waterfront instead of integrating it, and when it was contemplated that there would be far more private funds committed to this than there actually has been. Do we really want to be allocating public funds to this project in the hope it secures the needed private funding, instead of financing much needed Island infrastructure, or the housing and services needs Island reisdents/businesses will surely face as a result of recent events on Wall Street?

Rather than waiting another 40 years for the funds to be provided, just end it now and let businesses bid on the project, and the Islanders as a whole decide what should be developed there. Why do we not have the same rights with respect to our neighborhood, that community boards provide to other neighborhoods?