Celebrated architect Daniel Libeskind's magnificent monuments pay tribute to some of the world's most historic events.
Celebrated polish-born architect daniel libeskind talks about the driving force behind his work, revealing the roots of his many outstanding architectural creations.
Daniel Libeskind is renowned worldwide for designing striking architecture that speaks about history, war, conflict, memory and loss. Born in Poland in 1946, he became an American citizen in 1965 and is based in New York. His buildings include the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, and the extension to the Denver Art Museum. One of his current commissions is the Memory Foundations for the World Trade Center Master Plan. It consists of five upward-spiraling towers placed in a circle evoking the Statue of Liberty's torch, an underground museum and memorial, and public spaces honoring those who died.
What was your upbringing like in Lodz, Poland, and then in Israel and New York? How do you think the experience of living in these places shaped your architectural vision?
I grew up in a Jewish family when Poland was communist and anti-Semitic. Going to Israel and New York and living in different places was a transformative experience that was linked to history. These experiences taught me many things about the openness of society and memory, and how it's important never to forget. They taught me that there is a better society than communism and how architecture is part of that impulse. I believe that architecture has to communicate and tell a story about the possibility of understanding and the value of freedom.
Before becoming an architect, you were a prodigious accordion player.
You have said that architecture should sing like the score of a performance, incorporating the acoustics of a space. When you're designing a building,
do you always consider what type of music it should evoke?
Definitely. Each work of architecture is unique and, like music, it's based around mathematical equations. It communicates directly to the soul of the human being and incorporates all the same techniques relating to objects and space and materials. Each building has a musical space around it that is unique in terms of place, history and situation. Each project evokes its own uniqueness in a musical sense.
Regarding your master plan for the World Trade Center, how do you hope that the buildings will sound?
I hope the buildings will ring with the sound of the memory of what happened
on September 11, 2001, and how that day changed all of our lives. I want the buildings to sing into the open skylines of New York about freedom, and about the greatness of open, beautiful cities like this one. It will be the sound of the memory of irreversible tragedy, and also of the openness, resilience and freedom of New York and America.
Your master plan, including the Freedom Tower, measuring 1,776 feet, which refers to the Declaration of Independence and is oriented toward the Statue of Liberty, is an optimistic hymn to the US's constitution and values. How do you want visitors to experience the redevelopment?
I want people to understand where they are, not in terms of buildings, but in terms of a place that is to be remembered forever. It's symbolic and emblematic of American democracy, of what New York stands for, and the history and significance of the American constitution that we take for granted. These values are communicated in the site itself through symbols and meaning on every cultural, social and historical level.
Much has been written about the adversity and disputes surrounding the implementation of your master plan. How do you feel about the way it is being interpreted?
The master plan is not a dead archeological document, but a means of evolving. Evolution is the reason why the site is being rebuilt. The purpose of the master plan was to bring consensus from different parties and to move ahead in a meaningful way. It's about meaning, symbolism and openness of space, not just in terms of office space but also public space. It will be a place that shines with affirmative and beautiful convictions and contributions that are tied to the city itself.
What stage is it at now?
There are people working there, on the ground and in the cranes. There are very many things to do. The memorial will open in 2009. The Freedom Tower will be completed in 2010. And the visitor areas and the museums will open in 2010. The plan is well underway and you will see the results rapidly as they reach very visible aspects.
You've talked and written extensively about how architecture should confront history and reality. Since many of your buildings address the history of war, do you feel pressured to design architecture that is democratically responsible?
I don't feel pressured; I believe in democracy. I don't believe in totalitarian governments giving sites for architecture. I believe that democracy is the best form for architecture to represent society. In my work I have to deal with issues of violence and irreversible tragedy. And that is part of architecture, just as it is part of life. Architecture cannot anesthetize and create a pretty picture about history and society. It has to speak about human dilemmas and question marks, and things that are not easy to say in words.
You won the commission for your first building, the Jewish Museum in Berlin, when you were 43. Your wife says that you were a late bloomer. Do you think that the years spent teaching beforehand enabled you to finely tune your architectural philosophies?
I don't think architecture is just for kids. It takes time to have ideas, and architecture is a cultural discipline. This is why it's called the mother of the arts, because it brings many things together. What I was doing before was a metaphor for architecture. It represented a different path, because drawing, philosophy and teaching are also part of architecture. It's not driving down the highway; it's a different route that took me to unusual places in terms of my life and how I developed my ideas.
Four of your buildings – the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the Felix Nussbaum Museum in Osnabrück, the Danish Jewish Museum in Copenhagen and the Jewish War Veterans Memorial in Toronto – directly confront the history of the Holocaust. Having lost relatives in the Holocaust, how did you feel on a personal level designing these buildings?
I didn't go to a library to research those histories because they were my own history. My parents are Holocaust survivors, and my sister and I grew up with no relatives around because no one remained. Because of my own experience, these buildings mean a lot to me on a personal level.
When you're working on a building, you often pore over photographs of faces that you try to incorporate into your design. How does this translate architecturally?
It doesn't translate in a direct way, but it's something I'm interested in that has an impact on what I do. It's about something fundamental to the project, in terms of aspects of history that have been erased. It's the eye that haunts you, a life that has passed away. It's also a spiritual exercise about bringing something back that no longer has a physical representation in the world.
Your architecture is often composed of diagonal, intersecting lines and interlocking spaces. Is this inspired by how history itself is composed of different perspectives and conflicting facts?
Democracy is not just about involvement in a struggle; it's about making concessions and taking the labyrinthine path to reach a destination. The forms of architecture are not supposed to anesthetize experience. It's part of the tension of what is apparent and what's not apparent. It reflects the tension between different forces. And the design of my architecture is part of this vocabulary.
Two of your current projects – the Boys and Girls Club/Hope Center of Forrest Heights and The St. Raymond, consisting of two glass residential towers – are in New Orleans. They both relate to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. In what ways do they reflect the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and aspire to give hope?
Everybody is familiar with what happened in New Orleans. It doesn't take long to see the devastation of life, and how the children's club destroyed by the storm has affected the lives of the kids. I want to bring back a sense of identity, hope and oxygen. With The St. Raymond, it's about how the building environment can learn from the buildings that were destroyed, and how to build high-rise buildings that will be more effective [against hurricanes and climate change]. Both projects reflect the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and my desire to create something that will enhance the quality of life of people living there.
You've expressed your fears and dislike of soulless, heterogeneous tower blocks. What challenges did you set yourself regarding your residential towers in Warsaw, Sacramento, Colorado, Singapore and Copenhagen?
Each one is unique and originates from the people and history of that unique place. None of them is formulaic. Each has a unique form of communication with the people who live there and is a unique design. They're not interchangeable with other places.
How do you feel about being involved in Warsaw's reconstruction, over five decades after you and your family left Poland following the Second World War?
Poland is a wonderful country with a great national redevelopment project. And the Zlota 44 residential tower is not just another building; it relates to the history of the skyline. It's one of the of the highest residential buildings in Europe and stands across from the Stalin Palace, which is one of the buildings given to Poland from Stalin. It looks over the panorama of the city, with sophisticated shopping streets and public spaces. For the design, I was inspired by the eagle, which is the Polish national symbol that was removed by the communist regime. The building ascends in the sculptural form of the eagle, representing a wing of freedom. It's a wonderful feeling to be returning to this country at a time when the dark oppression of communism has gone
'Daniel Libeskind: Breaking Ground' is published by Riverhead Books.