Daniel Libeskind's Perspective
by Jo Baker
Daniel Libeskind is renowned for his treatment of soaring and controversial themes with equally soaring, controversial silhouettes. The Polish-born American virtuoso musician turned radical architect was a theorist and professor for decades before completing his first building at age 52. In the decade and a half since, he has created a series of striking international monuments to peace, conflict, and the human spirit.
ArchitectureWeek You tend to take on or win projects with a great deal of emotional symbolism. Is there anything in particular about your past work or personal history that you think resonates with people? How did this feature, for example, in your design for New York City's Ground Zero Master Plan?
Daniel Libeskind My work addresses not just the surface of things, but how architecture, urban space, buildings can really tell a story, and how they can bring hope to often gloomy pasts. As a child of Holocaust survivors who grew up under communist dictatorship in Poland, I didn't have to research these issues in the library; it's part of my own visceral past. I understand what it means to be free, what liberty and open space means. Perhaps the fact that these themes have been so much a part of my life creates the resonance.
Perhaps too because I believe that architecture is not an abstraction, but is a way to communicate a language to people at large, not only conceptually but emotionally, because the themes of life are really about integrating human beings. My parents worked in sweatshops around Lower Manhattan, and when creating the concept for Ground Zero, I pointed out that they would never have been in mega-towers, but in the streets of New York, in its subways and public spaces, like most others.
The design is not just for the way it looks on a postcard, but about how it feels to working people in New York. What the streets should feel like, and the urban space should feel like — that was uppermost in my mind. Every project I do is a personal project, not an assignment, so I have to have a connection to it and see that it deserves a unique answer.
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