Skip to main content

New York Minute

And so, three years in New York have gone by like a flash, and Justin & I are beginning our next adventure - San Francisco / Silicon Valley.  But before we dive in to our new city, here's a wrap-up of some final New York experiences.

Four Freedoms Park

On a still-cold but sunny day this spring, three of us made the trip to Roosevelt Island to see the recently-opened Four Freedoms Park, designed by Louis Kahn and dedicated as a memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  The park gets its name from FDR's famous State of the Union address declaring freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech & expression, and freedom of worship.  Roosevelt Island, the park's location, is itself named after FDR.  This memorial and park has an unusual history: Kahn designed the park before he died suddenly in 1974, but the project was suspended after that and only begun again in 2005.  The final design was kept as close as possible to Kahn's original, under the direction of Mitchell | Giurgola Architects.

We arrived at the island from the subway and walked past a cherry blossom festival that happened to be going on; the festival used part of the memorial plaza, so I can already tell that this site will be well-used.  Roosevelt Island has also become known recently as the future site of Cornell's new tech campus, part of Mayor Bloomberg's campaign to bring more tech jobs to New York.  It remains to be seen how the campus will fit in with the rest of the island.


As we approached the park, we kept to the right, skirting around the audience sitting on the main steps, which was watching some cultural performances as part of the festival.  We made our way down the eastern allĂ©e of trees and were blinded by the white granite at the "prow" of the park.  The view of Manhattan, and of the United Nations buildings in particular, was fantastic.  Only after admiring the view from the end and then turning around did I really notice the dramatic expanse of lawn that forms the majority of the park.  I was too distracted by the city views to notice it on the approach from behind the trees.  On the lawn, kids were cart-wheeling and running around, enjoying the spring weather, in contrast to the stark solemnity of the white granite "prow" with its floating bust of FDR.




After walking back to the entry steps we were able to take in the entire view of the park.  I noticed the walkways along the sides of the park, down by the water, but we didn't explore them further.


Kahn's design brings you up from the plane of the riverfront walkway to the elevated lawn, via the grand entrance steps, and then slowly back down to the level of the water at the far end.  The scale of it seems right, and certainly it's one of the best places in the city to see the rest of the city.  I had to look hard to see the details like the mortar-less placement of the blocks, with a thin space between them, and the blinding whiteness of the stone made our visit uncomfortable.  But I imagine that time and wear will dull the stone, and a cloudy day will change the experience entirely.  In all, I would highly recommend a visit, if only to get a sense of Louis Kahn's later work without having to travel outside the city.  For a much more elegant review of the park, read architectural critic Michael Kimmelman's review.



We took the aerial tram back to Manhattan (the island has limited public transit access), had lunch, and decided that any future visits need to happen when it's warmer!




Marble Hill Station

Another interesting experience we had was taking the Metro North - Hudson Line train up to visit a friend in Tarrytown.  We took the subway first to Marble Hill, where we caught the train.  We had a hard time finding the station, and once we did, I was quite amazed: like the Cloisters and some parts of Central Park, this part of Manhattan looked nothing like the quintessentially urban place I have come to know as New York.  The rest of the train ride was equally interesting, although I don't have any photos (turns out, it's hard to take photos with your phone while riding a bumpy train).  The Hudson line takes you along the Hudson River for most of its length, and the river itself has somehow been protected from development along its banks, giving you the impression that you're riding through forest, or at the very least, not through a city!  It probably helps that the "bank" is actually a rocky cliff.


View towards Manhattan
This waterfront train ride, and visits to Central Park and Fort Tryon Park (home of the Cloisters), emphasized for me the possibility of having your nature and your city, too.  With smart regulation and development, it's possible to have dense, forested parks, natural waterways, and urban living within easy access of one another.  (This argument is taken up in A Country of Cities, a book by my studio critic Vishaan Chakrabarti, which I'll be reviewing shortly.)  As I learned during a lecture in Denmark, it's better for wildlife to have connected green corridors than isolated large parks, but it's better to have any kind of parks, both for people and wildlife, than no parks at all.  I hope New York continues in its pursuit of new parks and open spaces as part of the city's planning policy, so places like these are no longer unexpected gifts but an expected and valued part of city life.



On a separate, and more humorous, note: Marble Hill, while geographically located in the Bronx, is politically part of Manhattan.  This is because the hill used to be part of Manhattan, and was only separated from the island - and attached to the mainland - in 1914, as part of a river diversion and subsequent land reclamation project.  The residents have been fighting to stay part of Manhattan ever since.  Isn't history fun?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Vertical Bike Rack

The work of our hands!


A little backstory:  We bought two bikes as soon as we could after moving here, so we could both bike to work.  After a few uneventful months of chaining up our bikes next to our car in the carport of our apartment building, Justin's bike was stolen.  (Mine was mysteriously left behind, together with Justin's pannier, which the thieves helpfully folded up and placed on top of my bike.  My only guess is that the chain holding my bike was harder to cut than the chain on Justin's.)  Since then, we've kept our bikes inside, hauling them up and down two flights of stairs to our third-floor apartment every time we take them out, which is usually a few times a week.  Ugh.  Better than buying a new bike every few months, though.

We needed a rack that would keep the bikes off the floor, off the walls, and in as small a footprint as possible, without requiring us to drill into or otherwise damage the walls (or floor or ceiling).  This proved a challenge t…

Book Review: "Theory and Design in the First Machine Age"

Reyner Banham's Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (1960) is an engaging overview of the important theoretical developments of the early 20th century leading up to the "International Style" of the 1930s-40s.  Banham does a fairly good job, in my opinion, of avoiding excessive editorializing, although he has a clear viewpoint on the Modern Movement and finishes with a strong conclusion.  In opposition to his teacher, Nikolaus Pevsner, whose own history of modernism came out in 1936, Banham dismantled the "form follows function" credo that became the stereotype of modernism, arguing instead that formalism (a preoccupation with style and aesthetics) was an important, if not overriding, concern of Modern architects.  Two sections of the book struck me in particular: his analysis of Le Corbusier's famous book Vers une architecture (Toward a [new] architecture) from 1923, and his Conclusion (chapter 22), where he breaks the link between functionalism and …

LEED Green Associate

Today I am pleased to report that I have passed the LEED® Green Associate exam, so I am now officially a LEED-accredited professional.  I have a few thoughts on this process that might be helpful for others looking into getting their own LEED Green Associate credential.  While I'm certainly in support of sustainable building practices, which is why I went to the trouble to get the credential in the first place, I don't think it's inappropriate to take a critical stance toward the whole enterprise in order to challenge the profession (and the industry) to be more self-aware.

The preparation: I passed the exam by using only resources that were freely available to me through my school library, including an e-book version of the LEED Green Associate study guide by Michelle Cottrell and the USGBC LEED Core Concepts Guide.  (Although I asked the library to obtain a new copy of the official USGBC LEED Green Associate Study Guide since the one they had was lost, they still haven&…