Second Quarter Message from AIA Arizona President, Robert Miller, AIA
WHAT MAKES THINGS, HAPPEN
I recently returned from the national AIA convention in New York—and a post-convention week with old friends, favorite restaurants, and—of course—drawing. In my book, there couldn’t have been a more apt setting for a “Conference on Architecture”!
My greatest discovery on this trip was the Four Freedoms Park on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island. Commissioned in 1972 to be a memorial to FDR, Louis Kahn was reportedly carrying the finished designs when he died in Penn Station in 1974—where the project died with him.
But, an exhibit at the Cooper Union thirty years later reawakened interest, leading to small donations and large political fights...and ultimately, the project’s construction (2010-2012) under the guiding hand of project architect Gina Pollara—who, thanks to the AIA, led my tour of the Park during the Conference.
In a lecture of 1973 at Pratt, Kahn had said of the project, “I had this thought that a memorial should be a room and a garden. That's all I had.” Well, I’ve got news for you: that’s about all Gina Pollara had, even with Kahn’s drawings and subsequent work by Mitchell | Giurgola Architects.
The memorial is set up by an inclined triangular plane, framed by allées of little-leaf linden trees, that create forced-perspectival processional routes. Once you are admitted past the colossal bust of Roosevelt (Jo Davidson, 1933), you enter a three-sided Room from which the United Nations (which was FDR’s vision) is framed on the fourth (open) side. Constructed from North Carolina granite, the Room is made from twenty-eight 36-ton blocks that were cut at the quarry and then precisely positioned on site: the vertical joints between these honed-finish slabs is a perfect three-eights-of-an-inch, such that the massive stones seem to make a contiguous wall (but their facing, four-foot-deep, polished-sides refract incoming light that underscores the quiet within). Suggestions that this structure concretizes Kahn’s ideal of timeless form—a simplified roofless version of a Greek temple—are apt. It is a procession that transports you into a world-apart.
This kind of Architecture is so much more than concept. Its material realization requires subtlety, precision, commitment, stubbornness, and incredible patience. Kahn’s scheme may be genius, but it took another and equally important architect, Pollara, to summon Architecture into being. Let’s face it, it’s not everyone who can arrange some stones in such a way to bring the ineffable present.
We would not have this timeless place or touchstone to one of the twentieth century’s greatest architects without the Cooper exhibit, the bending of political will, thousands of small donations, or the stubborn determination of the unsung Pollara….which, on that hot June afternoon inside the Room, got me thinking about Arizona.
It’s a good time to think about possibility; about what might be and what could have been.
It's a good time to recognize the people we work with who, like Gina Pollara, make amazing things happen, but often don’t get the credit they deserve.
It’s a good time to ponder the little things we can do that just might make a better future. (Like bending political will. Like making small donations. Like making a difference.)
Our own John Glenn, AIA is running for AZ State Representative, District 24. DONATE HERE.
Former-Mayor Greg Stanton, a consistent supporter of AIA Arizona and a politician who understands the importance of the built environment, is running for Arizona's 9th congressional district. DONATE HERE.
Our voices gain strength when we speak together: Arizona ArchiPAC.
Robert Miller, AIA, 2018 AIA Arizona President