“I create physical marvels.”

Daniel Libeskind on the parallels between music and Architecture.

Understanding the philosophy of Daniel Libeskind - Sheet1
Jonno Rattman ©Bloomberg Businessweek

Synonymous with deconstructivism, the Polish- American Architect Daniel Libeskind is famous for designing buildings that invoke cultural memory. He thinks that the buildings should tell stories and we mustn’t forget the emotional impact of the buildings around us.

Early life and career | Architect Daniel Libeskind

Born in Lód’z, Poland, in 1946, he was a virtuoso performer of the accordion and had even performed alongside a young Itzhak Perlman, a genius violinist. Libeskind was awarded a prestigious America–Israel Cultural Foundation (AICF) scholarship. In his autobiography, Libeskind mentions that he was told that he had exhausted all the possibilities of the accordion. Over time, he had developed an obsessive interest in drawing and wanted to become an Artist, before turning to Architecture at 17, as suggested by his mother.

“Be an architect. Architecture is a trade, and an art form.” And then she said something that should gladden the heart of every architect: “You can always do art in architecture, but you can’t do architecture in art. You get two fish with the same hook.” – Dora Libeskind**

Having to Holocaust survivors, his Jewish upbringing, and growing up in post-war Poland, and, immigration to Israel in 11 and finally to America in his teenage had a great influence on his design philosophy.  In 1970, he received his architectural degree from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, where he had studied with both Richard Meier and Peter Eisenman, even worked for them.

He went on to get his Masters degree in History and Theory of Architecture from the School of Comparative Studies at the University of Essex, in 1972.

After being an Academic for 16 years, he founded his Studio with his wife Nina, an Architect in 1989 upon winning the international competition for building the Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany.


“Buildings have hearts and souls, just as cities do. We can feel the memory and meaning in a building since the spiritual and cultural longing it evokes”

His design ideology of weaving together time, memory, and architecture, is best reflected in one of his seminal works- the Jewish Museum, Berlin.

Jewish Museum, Berlin | Architect Daniel Libeskind

Daniel Libeskind’s ‘Between the Lines’ design won the Extension of the Berlin Museum with a Jewish Museum Department competition in 1989. The museum consists of the baroque old building, the ‘Kollegienhaus’, and a new, deconstructivist building by Libeskind. The new structure with its titanium-zinc façade, zigzags and includes underground axes, angled walls, and exposed concrete ‘voids’ without any HVAC.

One must walk through an underground passageway from the entry in the adjacent baroque building to reach the permanent exhibition area. The floor plan is based on two lines, the building’s visible zigzagging line, and an invisible straight line. The jagged floor plan is reminiscent of a fractured Star of David, standing for the Jews who were arrested in concentration camps to be assassinated in Nazi Germany.

The Voids

Empty spaces that cut through the building in a vertical axis, known as the voids mark the point of intersection of the said lines. These voids are painted distinctly in black to portray the emptiness that resulted from the expulsion, destruction, and annihilation of the Jewish. Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman is installed in one of the voids.

The Axes | Architect Daniel Libeskind

Based on Jewish history in Germany, three axes- Axis of Exile, Axis of Holocaust, and Axile of Continuity run on the lower level, connecting it to the exhibition area.

The interior is made of reinforced concrete and in certain places, only a trace of light enters the building that lets one experience emotions of the Jews during WWII;  that when everything gets dark and feels like there is no way out, a ray of light always sparks hope.

The Axis of the Holocaust ends in the Holocaust Tower which is connected to the Libeskind building only underground. The feeling of oppression and anxiety is realized in a built form.

The Garden of Exile

The Axis of Exile culminates in the Garden of Exile, which is located outside the Libeskind building. The Garden consists of 49 tall concrete pillars that are covered Russian Olive bushes that symbolize hope. The feeling of being lost and disoriented amidst the towering pillars makes one experience the emotions the emigres had to go through.

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The Façade ©Jens Ziehe
Understanding the philosophy of Daniel Libeskind - Sheet3
Staircase to Libeskind Building. ©Thomas Bruns
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Windows based on the addresses of notable Jewish and non-Jewish Berlin figures ©Nina Raasch
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Memory Void and Shalekhet. ©Jens Ziehe
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The Axis of Exile and the Axis of the Holocaust. ©Thomas Bruns
Holocaust Tower and Oleaster plants, growing out of the stelae. © Jens Ziehe
Holocaust Tower and Oleaster plants, growing out of the stelae. © Jens Ziehe
Holocaust Tower and Oleaster plants, growing out of the stelae. © Jens Ziehe
Holocaust Tower and Oleaster plants, growing out of the stelae. © Jens Ziehe

Music and Architecture | Architect Daniel Libeskind

“Architecture is not just an intellectual or abstract exercise, it is an emotional experience just as music is. It is very precise, it cannot be off by one half of vibration because everyone would know that it doesn’t sound right. It has to communicate with the soul and everybody has to share it in a deeply emotional way. It is always about performance and what happens after the performance. When you leave a building, it is like leaving a piece of music. It is still in you and still with you. Drawing the plans for something is like creating a musical score, which is then performed by musicians. To be able to conduct music you have to be very precise but you also have to give freedom for it to be performed by others. That is in many ways identical to architecture. ” *

According to Libeskind, music is used as the central part of the Jewish Museum. The void is created to be a completion of  ‘Moses and Aron,’ an opera by Arnold Schoenberg that he could not finish because he was exiled from Berlin. He thought that it would be completed in the echoes of the footsteps of the visitors across that void, using music in a very practical and scientific way. Also, the long thin stairway, punctured by angular struts and underscored by dark stone, is a natural echo of the mood created in Albinoni’s Adagio in the key of G minor. This has a descending bass-line that repeats again and again − ‘going down, going down’ as it were − a naturally expressive form of sadness, as stereotyped as using a minor key in the context of death.

“Architecture is an extension of music… Both are scientific yet aim to appeal to the human soul…and go beyond words.”

He believes he didn’t give up music at all; he’s just changed the instrument and that he continues to practice music in architecture.

Music and architecture he says, have to register in the soul of the listener or onlooker, not just as notes or drawings.

Daniel Libeskind is a recipient of various awards and accolades. He is the first architect to win the Hiroshima Art Prize, awarded to an artist whose work promotes international understanding and peace (2001). With his love of music, philosophy, literature, and poetry, Libeskind hopes to expand the scope of architecture that is resonant, unique, and sustainable.


“2018 NY Gala Honoree: Daniel Libeskind.” American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, 18 Feb. 2020, www.afipo.org/outandabout/2018-daniel-libeskind/.

“Daniel Libeskind: The Links between Music and Architecture.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 5 Dec. 2013, www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/daniel-libeskind-the-links-between-music-and-architecture-186225.html.

“Daniel Libeskind Building The Unbuildable.” 52 Insights, 4 Jan. 2018, www.52-insights.com/daniel-libeskind-building-the-unbuildable-interview-architecture/.

Jencks, Charles, and Michael St. “Architecture Becomes Music.” Architectural Review, www.architectural-review.com/essays/architecture-becomes-music/8647050.article.

Libeskind, Daniel. 12 quotes from Daniel Libeskind on design and architecture.

Libeskind, Daniel, and Sarah Crichton. Breaking Ground: Adventures in Life and Architecture. Riverhead Books, 2004.

Libeskind, Daniel. “We Mustn’t Forget the Emotional Impact of the Buildings around Us.” CNN, Cable News Network, 30 June 2015, edition.cnn.com/style/article/daniel-libeskind-architecture-emotions/index.html.

Street-Porter, Janet. “Daniel Libeskind: Philosopher Who Creates Buildings That Perform To.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 23 Sept. 2015, www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/daniel-libeskind-philosopher-who-creates-buildings-that-perform-to-the-public-183035.html.

“Studio Libeskind: Architecture: Design.” Libeskind, libeskind.com/.

“The Libeskind Building.” Jewish Museum Berlin, www.jmberlin.de/en/libeskind-building.


* Excerpt from the book Breaking Ground

* Excerpt from The Talks interview



Srinidhi Sugumar is an Architect currently working in Bangalore and pursuing her dream to write.