Libeskind, Daniel

Libeskind, Daniel
▪ 2004

      In February 2003 architect Daniel Libeskind triumphed over six other prominent contestants to win one of the most prestigious design competitions ever held, that for the 6.5-ha (16-ac) former site of New York City's World Trade Center. His 70-story building, topped with a 541-m (1,776-ft) spire, would become the world's tallest building. A notable feature of the Libeskind design was a sunken memorial to those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (See Architecture: Sidebar. (Rebuilding the World Trade Center ))

      Libeskind was born in Lodz, Pol., on May 12, 1946, to parents who had survived the Holocaust. The family immigrated to Israel in 1957 and then to New York City in 1959. During his early teenage years, Libeskind showed his greatest interest in music, winning a scholarship to study in Israel. He soon gained recognition as a virtuoso pianist and played professionally at Carnegie Hall in New York City. At the age of 16, however, he turned his back on that career, and he later enrolled at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City, where he received an undergraduate degree in architecture in 1970. He gained an M.A. degree (1972) in the history and theory of architecture from the University of Essex, Colchester, Eng.

      Libeskind began his professional career in 1971 at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York City. In 1972 he moved to Toronto to work for Irving Grossman Associates, and from 1973 to 1975 he served as assistant professor of architecture at the University of Kentucky. He returned to Canada in 1977 as an associate professor of architecture at the University of Toronto. The next year he was appointed head of the School of Architecture and architect in residence at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., where he remained until 1985. He then moved to Italy, where he became director of Architecture Intermundium in Milan and made models and drawings that he exhibited at the 1985 Venice Biennale.

      Libeskind achieved his first major success in 1989, when he won the competition to design Berlin's Jewish Museum. He moved to Berlin the next year and established an architectural office; by 2003 he was employing some 50 architects there. His first completed building, in 1998, was a museum in Osnabrück, Ger., dedicated to Jewish artist Felix Nussbaum, but it was the Jewish Museum, completed in 1999, that won him international renown. Libeskind followed this with the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, Eng., completed in 2002. Constructed of steel, concrete, and asphalt, it consists of three forms derived from shattering a globe, symbolizing conflict on land, in the air, and on water.

      Besides the World Trade Center project, Libeskind in 2003 was involved in designs for museums in Denver, Colo., Toronto, and London; for a large shopping centre in Switzerland; and for sets for Richard Wagner's “Ring” cycle at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London.

David R. Calhoun

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▪ American architect
born May 12, 1946, Łódź, Poland

      Polish American architect known for introducing complex ideas and emotions into his designs.

      Libeskind first studied music at the Łódź Conservatory, and in 1960 he moved to New York City on a music scholarship. Changing his artistic aims after arriving, he began to study architecture under John Hejduk and Peter Eisenman (Eisenman, Peter) at Cooper Union. After receiving his master's degree in the history and theory of architecture from the University of Essex, England (1972), he became known as an academic, especially for his time teaching at the Cranbrook Academy of Art (1978–85) in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

      Libeskind's international reputation as an architect was solidified when in 1989 he won the competition to build an addition to the Berlin Museum that would house the city museum's collection of objects related to Jewish history. Despite a decade of opposition through local politics, the building itself was completed in 1999 and opened as a museum in 2001. Libeskind, who lost most of his family in the Holocaust, worked to convey several levels of meaning in the building. The base of the complex runs in a broken, zig-zag pattern, creating a floor plan that resembles the Star of David, which Jews were forced to wear displayed prominently on their clothing during the Nazi occupation. Throughout the length of the museum runs a space known as the Void, which is a path of raw, blank concrete walls. Visitors can see the Void, but they cannot enter it or use it to access other parts of the museum; in this way, it suggests both notions of absence and paths not taken. Crooked slices of window allow light that creates a disorienting, almost violent feeling throughout the structure, while, at the same time, an adjacent sculpture garden creates a sense of meditative silence. Because the spatial experience is so powerful, many felt that the building might better serve as a memorial without any installations. Controversy swirled over this proposal until, in 2000–01, Libeskind remodeled the building somewhat to facilitate its museum function.

 On the basis of the recognition he earned for this project, Libeskind received a number of museum commissions in the late 1990s and early 21st century, including the Felix Nussbaum Haus (1995–99) in Osnabrück, Germany. In 2003 Libeskind won an international competition to rebuild the World Trade Center site in New York City. During the competition phase, much debate arose over whether a new, taller structure should be built or the site left untouched as a form of memorial. Libeskind's plan thoughtfully addressed both these visions, combining a glass tower, designed to be the tallest in the world, with open memorial gardens that represent the “footprints” of the two fallen towers. His design was praised by both the architectural community and the general public, but ultimately commercial and safety concerns overrode the original design, and all that remained of Libeskind's vision was the overall height of the building: 1,776 feet (540 metres), a reference to the year in which the Declaration of Independence was approved by the U.S. Continental Congress.

      Libeskind continued to be sought after for Jewish projects. Among these were the interior of the Danish Jewish Museum (completed 2003) in Copenhagen, a glass courtyard (completed 2007) for the Jewish Museum in Berlin, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco (completed 2008). He was also tapped for a variety of art-museum buildings—including the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal (completed 2007), an extension of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto; and an extension to the Denver Art Museum, Frederic C. Hamilton Building (opened 2006) in Denver, Colo.—and many other structures.

Additional Reading
Bernhard Schneider, Daniel Libeskind: Jewish Museum Berlin: Between the Lines, trans. from German by John William Gabriel (1999).

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Universalium. 2010.

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