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February 14, 2003 - Image 78

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-02-14

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Building Optimism

A former head of the architecture department at Cranbrook, Daniel Libeskind
is one of two finalists in the plan to redevelop Ground Zero.

New York Jewish Week


f planners at the Lower
Manhattan Development Corp.
aimed to generate excitement
about the latest design study to
rebuild the area destroyed on Sept. 11,
2001, they were wise to put Daniel
Libeskind at the top- of the lineup.
A small man with gray hair and rec-
tangular glasses, Libeskind was a
dynamo — dressed completely in
black with his shirt buttoned up to the
collar — at the December ceremony
where seven proposals were presented.
At one point, the former Bronx resi-
dent raised his fist in the air as he
described a 1,776-foot spire rising
from one of the starkly geometrical,
glassy skyscrapers to be clustered
around the foundations of the fallen
towers, saying it would "reassert the
pre-eminence of freedom and beauty."
Libeskind spoke with rushed excite-
ment as he outlined his plan for a busi-
ness, transportation and cultural corn-
plex that would "create a dense and
exhilarating affirmation of New York."
It seemed he was squeezing every
second of airtime he could grasp to
describe the Park of Heroes or the
Wedge of Light, through which unob-
structed sunlight would shine each
year on the morning of Sept. 11.
Last week, Libeskind's design was
named as one of two finalists in the
plan to develop Ground Zero by offi-
cials of the LMDC, the agency oversee-
ing the development of the site, and
the Port Authority of New York and
New Jersey, which owns the land where
the World Trade Center once stood.
First known solely as a conceptual
architect, Libeskind is now most
famous for his first commission, the
Jewish Museum in Berlin, housed in a
building punctured by symbolic voids.
The museum opened in 1999 and
had attracted a quarter of a million vis-
itors even before the exhibition on the
history of Berlin's Jews was installed.
"He has considered before exactly
what it means to fill a space in with
life and memory as a way to represent
destruction," said James Young, an
English professor at the University of
Massachusetts at Amherst and an
expert on memorial architecture.



as "an exploding globe."
The other finalist chosen for the
The son of Holocaust survivors who
WTC site last week is. an international
met in a displaced persons camp,
team of design firms known as
THINK, led by New York-based archi- Libeskind has said he sees beauty every-
where, "even those places abandoned by
tects Rafael Vinoly and Frederic
hope." Thinking about rebuilding at
Schwartz. The group's plan evokes the
the World Trade Center site, he stressed
late, Michigan-based Minoru
Yamasaki's design of the original World the importance of translating "memory
and hope into physical materials and
Trade Center, with 1,665-foot twin
into architecture."
towers of ethereal latticework.
Libeskind was clearly moved by his
Both Libeskind's design and the
experience standing in the chasm left
THINK plan would surpass in height
by the fallen towers.
Malaysia's 1,483-foot Petronas Twin
"Really you have a revelation when you
Towers, currently the tallest structures
in the world.
A final decision on
which plan will be
advanced as a solu-
tion for the trade
center site will made
at the end of the
Libeskind, 55,
currently lives in
Berlin, but he was born in Poland
and spent his teens and early 20s
in New York. He first glimpsed
the Statue of Liberty -through early
morning mist from the ship that
brought his family to America.
"I have never forgotten that sight
or what it stands for. This is what
this project is all about," he said,
reading at the December unveiling Daniel Libeskind's proposed design for the
of the projects from a prepared
rebuilding of New York's World Trade Center.
statement that ended with the
words "Life victorious."
go down there," he said in a voice that
That simple phrase captures
hints of his Eastern European origins.
Libeskind's philosophy of architecture,
"It's the bedrock level, where New
which he has called "an optimistic
York was built from."
The Sept. 11 explosions revealed the
In person, Libeskind is passionate,
walls that reinforced the World Trade
thoughtful and infectiously joyful.
Center's foundations and are, Libeskind
Still, his attitude toward his work is
says, "the silent heroes of the attack.
surprising, given that many of his
They survived it, the whole trauma, and
major projects so far have embodied
they continue to protect the site and
one of the darkest chapters in modern
keep the Hudson River from flooding
history, and one with personal reso-
Manhattan. It's an amazing thing."
nance for the architect.
Even before the Jewish Museum was
completed, Libeskind had built a
Matrix Of Heroes
museum in Osnabruck, Germany,
Access to the buildings' footprints 70
dedicated to the painter Felix
feet below ground is an integral part
Nussbaum, who was executed in
of Libeskind's design for the site.
Auschwitz in 1944.
"Libeskind's been pushing the edge a
Just this summer, doors opened at
long, long time," said Young, who
the Imperial War Museum North in
suggested that by including Libeskind
Manchester England, an aluminum-
in the current design study the devel-
clad structure that has been described


opment corporation was embracing
cutting-edge architecture.
A published poet with a mystical
bent, for many years Libeskind worked
on designs that could never be built,
and could be publicly viewed only in
museums and gallery exhibitions.
That all changed with the Jewish
Museum in Berlin. Libeskind titled
the project "Between the Lines," a ref-
erence to one of a constellation of
ideas that shaped his design.
On a map of Berlin, he plotted the
actual addresses of Jewish and gentile
writers, artists and thinkers who had
lived in Berlin up to 1933. From these
points he constructed what he called
"an irrational matrix," which became
the basis for the crisscrossing lines that
cut through the building's walls.
His World Trade Center plan employs
a similar conceit: a "Matrix of Heroes"
that would radiate outward from a
central plaza. Its lines would trace the
routes taken by firemen, policemen
and rescue workers as they entered the
site on Sept. 11. But they would also
extend upward and out toward the
horizon to include all citizens in "the
matrix of life."
"I wanted to make invisible lines
visible and permanent," he said.
Libeskind's designs are powered by
the belief that buildings convey hid-
den meanings. His concept for the
Jewish Museum in San Francisco, for
example, is based on the Hebrew let-
ters of the word chai, meaning life.
And his plan for the extension to
the Victoria and Albert Museum in
London is a ceramic-clad spiral, rep-
resenting the uncoiling of history.
Libeskind's current project list
includes a convention center at Bar.;
Ilan University in Tel Aviv, extensions
to museums in Denver and Toronto,
the interior of Copenhagen's Jewish
museum, the largest shopping center in
Europe, and, his smallest project, a pri-
vate studio in Mallorca, Spain.
In the past three years alone,
Libeskind has been recognized with
numerous awards, including the
German Architecture Prize, the Goethe
Medal and the Hiroshima Art Prize,
given to artists who promote peace.
He's garnered criticism, too.
• He met with mayoral objection in
Berlin and Osnabruck. A London edito-
rial reportedly denounced his projected
"spiral" for the Victoria and Albert
Museum as "a disaster for the V&A in
particular and for civilization in general."
Libeskind was en route to becoming
the first architect appointed a senior
scholar at the Getty Center in Los
Angeles when he learned he won the

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