The Franklin D. Roosevelt National Memorial is a series of outdoor rooms that represents the 4 terms of FDR’s presidency. The design, one of the most distinguished of the late Lawrence Halprin, integrates a set of waterfalls and statues to evoke the attitudes and emotions of the president and American people in an era marked by some of the most important events in our young country’s history.
The FDR Memorial is one of my favorite places in D.C. Since I visited the city for the first time only last year before deciding to move here, the entire experience was closely tied to the culmination of my career in college, where fledgling ideas of interpretative landscapes were at the forefront of a senior capstone project.
Halprin deftly utilizes symbolism and programming in order to create a narrative that truly acts as a story telling device for visitors. The creation of individual spaces is wonderful and the materials are simple and elegant. Where people often gravitate to the statues or waterfalls, I found myself mesmerized by the use of scale to convey the idea of FDR’s different terms.
The project is oriented towards the Tidal Basin to the north and blocks the unforgiving sounds of passing traffic on its south side, masking the vehicles with high stone walls and the white noise of cascading waterfalls. Cubes pierce each other and recombine in order to modulate the space while compressing the transitions between them. The walls are anchored with FDR quotes that require the user to interact with then entire length of a space, rather than fixing them to a specific point as one would looking at a painting in a museum. Each “room” builds to an eventual climax at the magnificent waterfall shown in the third picture below.
Most importantly, the FDR memorial is a expertly crafted public space, encouraging interaction and contemplation simultaneously. I encourage you to visit the site as it is, in my opinion, the best memorial on the mall, and does such a better job at conveying the essence of a man than any monolithic homage could.
Benjamin Boyd is the editor of Landscape Invocation and a graduate of the University of Florida. Ben currently practices landscape design in Washington D.C.