Historical Background

The Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island is a four-acre memorial to American president Franklin D Roosevelt that celebrates the Four Freedoms he articulated in his 1941 State of the Union address.

Originally designed by Louis Kahn in the early 1970s, and one of his last works, the Park was only officially opened in October 2012. It is located at the southernmost tip of Roosevelt Island, a long narrow island in the East River, between Manhattan Island and Queens. Kahn, a highly respected American architect of the 20th century, was well known for the monumental and monolithic style of his constructions, which have a weighty heaviness about them.

The visitor, approaching from the north, first passes through the peaceful Southpoint Park, with its gently meandering pathways leading through lush green gardens. Southpoint Park is a wonderful location for relaxing picnics and other family friendly activities and offers glorious views of both Manhattan to the west and Queens to the east. It is home to historical landmarks such as the Strecker Memorial Laboratory and the Renwick Smallpox Hospital. The laboratory, built in 1892, was the first in the country to be devoted exclusively to pathological and bacteriological research; it closed in the early 20th century, and currently houses the electric converters for the subways of New York City Transit. The hospital, which was built in 1856, was the first hospital in the country to receive patients with smallpox, who were quarantined on the island; in the late 1800s, after an effective vaccine was found, the hospital was closed, and it was converted into a training school for nurses. It was abandoned in the 1950s, after which it fell into ruin; it is currently an ivy-colored and rather picturesque ruin with landmark status. Today, there is much interest in re-purposing it in some way.

As the visitor follows the paths leading past the Smallpox Hospital, a wide flight of stairs marks the beginning of the Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. An elevated grass-covered area is lined by a double row of little-leaf linden trees, which narrows as the visitor approaches the southernmost point of the island. In the distance, the view opens up to the breath-taking New York skyline. At the end, the visitor arrives in a spacious courtyard surrounded by blocks of granite, with a bust of FD Roosevelt.

owing extract from his speech is carved into the granite walls of the memorial:

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want … everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear … anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.

It is particularly fitting that the United Nations buildings can be seen clearly from the memorial, as these four freedoms formed the foundation for the establishment of the United Nations in 1945:

  • Freedom of speech and expression
  • Freedom of worship
  • Freedom from want
  • Freedom from fear

The combination of the Four Freedoms Park and the adjoining Southpoint Park, through which visitors access the Memorial at the southernmost tip of Roosevelt Island, offers a wonderful challenge for an artist such as myself, who specializes in large-scale public art installations.

Artistic Interpretation of the Four Freedoms

I have associated each of the four freedoms with a particular color:

  • Freedom of speech and expression: Blue
  • Freedom of worship: Green
  • Freedom from want: Red
  • Freedom from fear: Yellow

Rows and clusters of multicolored balloons are distributed all over the two Parks, thus creating a microcosm of all the countries and nations of the world.

As visitors enter Southpoint Park from the north, following the curving pathways through open green spaces and past colorful flowerbeds, they will encounter clusters of large balloons, in all four colors – blue, green, red and yellow. Here and there, grey segments will be visible among the colors, and some of the balloons will be entirely grey in color.

This is an artistic way of illustrating that some countries have not yet fully implemented the four freedoms but are still striving towards realizing them.

As visitors continue walking towards the historic Smallpox Hospital, there are fewer and fewer grey segments among the bright colors, and each of the balloons now includes all four colors, in four equal segments. Some of the balloons will be anchored to the ground, while others, filled with helium gas, will be floating about two to seven meters above the ground.

Once visitors have walked past the Hospital and ascended the flight of stairs, which leads into the Four Freedoms Park, they will find neat rows of large helium-filled balloons, all along the straight path leading to the tip of the memorial, thus symbolizing harmony, symmetry and order.

At the southernmost tip of the Park, a mystical place that resembles a Greek temple made of blocks of granite, open to the vast sky above and with a clear view of the East River and the New York skyline, there is a balloon at each of the four corners. Each balloon is in one color only: blue, green, red and yellow, thus representing each of the four freedoms in their purest form.

The interplay of the colors and the movement of light and shadow will create a wonderful picture. In the extreme heat of summer, they also offer welcome shade and coolness to visitors, who can move easily among and between the large balloons.

Motivation

  

My strong sense of connection to New York is frequently bringing me back to the Big Apple. In fact, my first art works originated during an extended stay in New York in 1987/1988. It marked a significant increase in my creativity and artistic ambitions, and led to the development of my passion for large-scale art installations in particular. In the 30 years since then, much has happened, and much has changed, not only globally but also within myself as an artist.

Safety & Security

We take safety very seriously. Each balloon is anchored on at least three different points. The plastic-covered wire-rope is firmly attached to the foundation. At least two security people will guard the display during the official opening hours of the parks, both during the construction phase as well as during the 14 days of the display. Experience has taught us that these balloon displays attract large numbers of people – unfortunately, they also attract people who want to damage or destroy the balloons. It is thus important to prepare a comprehensive safety and security plan.

Technical Aspects

As was the case with the other three balloon projects that we have realized in various other countries around the world, we use balloons made of synthetic rubber, with a diameter of 3 meters (9 feet). A large number of balloons are fully inflated with helium gas, which poses no danger to people or the environment. The ones inflated by air are attached to the ground. At their lowest point, the balloons are floating 2 meters above the ground, and at their highest point, about 6 meters above ground level. The individual balloons are anchored to a pedestal by means of thin plastic-covered wire-ropes. Where possible they are also connected to each other. In addition, a safety rope running through the tops of the balloons ties them to each other.

Media & Marketing

The Project will receive extensive coverage in both local and international media. The relevant information will be disseminated by the artist among the various media channels in order to obtain the biggest possible coverage – which will also please our sponsors. We will post regular updates with regard to the FlyingFreedoms project and its realization via social media (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc).

Finances

As this unusual project will be quite expensive, we are intending to finance it by attracting local sponsors and Swiss and American businesses, as well as using other funding possibilities. We will also request a substantial contribution from the Schweizerische Kulturförderung. In addition, we will apply for in-kind sponsorships of equipment, as well as of transport, board and lodging.

Current and Past Partners 

Testimonial

Reviews

  
Personally, I find Philipp's balloon project finely attuned to the spirit of New York's Downtown. It is buoyant, energetic, and optimistic. It defies gravity as do the great East River bridges. Just as they are, it can succeed only when its design integrates talented artistry and skillful engineering. New Yorkers have enjoyed many interesting projects visiting this area. This one could be another welcome guest.

Dr. Bojidar S. Yanev

Executive Director, Bureau of Bridges, New York City Dot
Philipp Krebs creates flying walls or sculptures out of giant balloons. That's one way to put it. A more appropriate way to say it is: He’s an artist. And his work is poetry, flying poetry.

Mark van Huisseling, based in Zurich

Journalist, editor, novelist
Excellent project, brilliant engineering

Hansruedi Meier

Engineer
I had the distinct privilege to work as lead photographer with Philipp Krebs and his multi-talented team on a large scale environmental art project which was to be installed across the length of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994? His vision brought the best aspects of art, design and engineering into a cohesive, striking installation. We worked directly with officials from the NYC Dept of Transportation for a period of two years, and Philipp was widely respected by all those who were involved. Not only did he capably handle the many curves thrown at him throughout the project’s life, he also provided excellent direction and personal concern for all those who were there to help him implement it. We have remained good friends since then and I look forward to working with him in the future.

Michael A. Smith

Photographer
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