Libeskind in London
The building envelope is concerned with framing views and bringing in the context. This is an optimistic approach, given the site, yet it works surprisingly well. There is a lookout over the street, and visitors are drawn immediately and in awe to the grand window over Holloway Road.
Standing in front of the enormous window makes the bustle of the road seem somehow dynamic and exciting as the high vantage point removes the viewer from the noise and allows a more passive viewing of the street. This double-height resting space is a calm place to sit, separated from the noise and chaotic pace through the doors leading into the existing building.
Previously, the crowded facilities at the university meant there were few unprogrammed spaces just to sit, reflect, gather, and socialize informally. This small area is a welcome addition to the school and a civilized and delightful space for graduate students.
In a recent interview, Libeskind reflected: "Because I was a student and a teacher, I knew that buildings should not be just factories for knowledge but have an interesting atmosphere and that students and teachers should have some fun."
Libeskind's overall design and interior spaces in the building have been determined by analysing the needs of the students and the required program and the balancing the needs of the community to create a dynamic and useful building.
But Will It Be Accepted?
The aesthetics of this pavilion may upset conservative observers, but the architecture of the pavilion is more than sloping walls and gashed windows. It goes beyond the surface, as Libeskind's work always does, revealing sophisticated architectural intention.
Within a week of the Graduate Centre's opening, London's architecture magazines raced to blast the building as a monstrosity hopelessly out of sync with its surroundings and ridiculing Libeskind's use of astronomical symbolism as a starting point for generating ideas in design.
However, the Graduate Centre is undeniably an inspiring space, both as an exterior urban landmark in an otherwise dismal site, and as a series of beautifully crafted, light, flexible, interior spaces. The attention to detail, framing of views, and consideration of procession and circulation are timeless.
Visiting the Graduate Centre, I am reminded of what Vitruvius stated nearly 2000 years ago. "The end is to build well. Well building hath three conditions: commodity, firmness, and delight." And here again Libeskind strikes the perfect balance, demonstrating he is a big fan of delight.
Terri Whitehead is an architectural journalist and works at Haverstock Associates in London England.
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