This exhibition demonstrates how authentic architecture originates in an idea, or a set of ideas, and how those ideas are first manifest in drawings. Louis I. Kahn's sketches and drawings for the Roosevelt Memorial are both hauntingly evocative and powerfully architectural. They are not simply representational, but serve to clarify ideas and explore and construct space. By studying them we can consider, and perhaps enter, both space and thought.

In the memorial, the ideas can be seen to emerge from both the program and the site, each equally extraordinary. The architectural program was nothing less than a monument to the highest of human ideals and aspirations: the Four Freedoms articulated by President Roosevelt in his annual address to Congress in 1941. When Kahn was commissioned to design the memorial in January 1973, the site at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island was landfill, an isolated but glorious sanctuary in the East River from which one might contemplate the majesty of Manhattan, the authority of the United Nations and the sweeping grandeur of New York Harbor. To this site and program, Kahn brought his own ideas about democracy, monumentality, and architectural origins.

This exhibition brings together Kahn's original drawings for the Roosevelt Memorial and the full set of construction documents and specifications completed with the support of the office of Mitchell/Giurgola Architects and David Wisdom Architect after Kahn's death in March 1974. We are also privileged to be able to include a Kahn sketchbook that contains exquisite drawings and notes, which has never been previously exhibited. What has emerged from the assembly of these materials is a provocative position regarding the memorial: that a project which had been commissioned, sited, designed, revised, developed, detailed, and fully drawn and specified over thirty years ago might finally be ready to be built.

In architectural practice today, construction drawings have become instruments of service, operational instruments of production. Construction drawings are now produced almost universally as digital files using computer-aided design and drafting programs. The files are often shared among many individuals, and the «hand,» and certainly the touch, of any one person on those drawings is all but lost. But the original set exhibited here was drawn entirely by hand. Each drawing was «constructed» with straight edges and compasses through the pressure of graphite on a waxed linen surface. They are now more than thirty years old, artifacts of another time in architectural practice. Nonetheless, they retain their capacity to define a project for which building methodology has little changed: drawings may now be constructed digitally, allowing ever more complex geometries, but, for the most part, buildings are still made by hand. In the Roosevelt Memorial, the materiality is inherent to the ideas of the project, and both are reflected in the completeness and precision of the drawings.

Kahn's design for the Roosevelt Memorial has existed, fully defined, for thirty years. Since then, much about New York and the position of Roosevelt Island in the city has changed. Only now does this formerly isolated site find itself as Kahn may have imagined it, at the nexus of the city. Today New York's waterways are no longer perceived as boundaries, but as grand, active public spaces. It is a testament to both the clarity of the design as a monument and as a public park, and to the power and authority of the drawings that the project's realization has seemed imminent for so long: work on the site to shape it to the profile of Kahn's design was done as recently as 1995.

In an address to students in 1973, Kahn said, «I feel that being in [a] school is like being in a chapel, and my duty is to write psalms.» It is an honor for the School of Architecture to bring this work, this song of praise, by a great architect and teacher for a visionary leader and the ideals he championed, to our students and the public, continuing our tradition of and commitment toward sharing scholarship and extending knowledge in a place of creative thought and debate.