Daniel Libeskind is a Polish-American architect and co-founder of Studio Daniel Libeskind. He has taught at various universities globally, including the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University. The Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany, the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, and the reconstruction of the World Trade Centre site in New York include his list of architecture projects and is the recipient of multiple prizes.

In this interview, he talks about his perspectives towards architecture and how his life experiences and family make a significant part in his becoming an architect and what it means to him.

Interviews with Architects: Daniel Libeskind Interview: The Voices of a Site - Sheet1
Daniel Libeskind_davidgillgallery.com

For Daniel, it’s not the materials, or stones or walls that make architecture, he says architecture is the atmosphere; it is the story being told through light through proportions, through those elements, it’s something that communicates to us directly to our soul. He compares architecture to music, you can see the instruments, not the music similarly you can see the materials, the walls, windows but you can’t see the architecture.

Architecture is the field where optimism is a requirement you can be a pessimist in any other fields, but the virtue of building a foundation for something that has yet to come makes you into someone who is looking forward towards the future, and for this reason, he describes himself as not being a nostalgic person. For him, people with nostalgia are people who don’t believe in the future. But he explains there would be no future without our memory. Memory is trying to orient oneself in a complex world that is always shifting. It is the ground of any building, modest or representative.

Interviews with Architects: Daniel Libeskind Interview: The Voices of a Site - Sheet2
Central Building at Leuphana University of Lüneburg_world-architects.com

His Life Experiences

In his life, there have been a series of unexpected paths that took Daniel Libeskind towards architecture. He says he wasn’t planning to be an architect and was rather interested in drawing, arts, music, literature. But all those things took him towards architecture and he doesn’t know-how. But he became an architect much later in his life, and unlike other new beginners, he chose not to work under any architects as an apprentice since his idea of architecture was not the one they had. Instead, he became partners with his wife. He connects his life journey from the beginning of his life. 

Being Born in dark times and a Jew, he lived under a government with communism. He talks about his parents having no family left yet they were not just victims but they had their personalities which inspired him. His parents never got to complete their education, but he considers them much more educated than others because they educated themselves through life through their love for reading or talking. Surviving through the dark time, they taught him a lot about life.

Daniel gained a sense of being and having liberty from them which affected his thought process as an architect. Talking about liberty he says, architecture for him needs to get freedom, everyone expects the expected from architects. But this always made him interested in architecture, that it is the profession that reinforces the conformity and the illusion of a certain world which we don’t want to give up because for him art and architecture interplay. He declares Don’t have a goal, have a path, the path will take you, though you don’t know where you are going.

Interviews with Architects: Daniel Libeskind Interview: The Voices of a Site - Sheet3
Jewish Museum Berlin _StudioLibeskind

Connecting with Life

He talks about his decisions in his architecture career. Daniel Libeskind always thought to himself what will he give to people like his parents knowing that they will never be in those towers because they’re working in the sweatshops, they’re in the factories. When it comes to the majority, people don’t think of the towers, they would think of the public spaces, they would think of the subways, think of the trains, think of the streets. That was his idea, and he didn’t base it on some abstraction. He thought what is it for the people, the view down across the street; it is the connections that can make and affirm in face of tragedy that life goes on meaningfully, not the too cheap end of life. He says Everything that happens around you forms you even if it doesn’t affect you directly.

Architecture is a very strange field, he says. When you go to architecture, you’re right to ask what exactly it is; well it’s a civic art. But it’s an art, it’s not a private art, although in part it’s just like a problem. It is a gamble he believes; he says that in meaningful architecture there is a risk. You have to take a risk and it will not be universally easy to do it. To him, it’s just like a newborn. Whenever a newborn is born, you don’t know what will happen because every life is different, every life is unique. Have optimism you have to be a believer you have to fight for what you believe, it’s not just sitting back. Take a risk to change yourself.

Memory and Architecture

He firmly declares there’s no one in the world in any culture not connected to the architecture and their surroundings. Memory is a great incubator of emotions. It just requires a sudden encounter with a street or looks at a cloud passing by a roof or a shadow thrown in your way – will you suddenly realize that all of this is the theatre of your world; that that’s you; that’s that; it tells you something that it communicates.

He explains, “So, memory is not something I bring in only to projects that deal with tragedies or with public notions of memory. Although those are very important, every building, even a modest house which I built, every place has been touched by a trauma, touched by something that we are not aware of because those voices of the sites are not loud, they whisper to us. Attune yourself to see something that is not purely decipherable straight, but you have to listen today to the earth. It’s not about some aesthetic fantasy, it’s how do you bring how do you create a plan that is strong enough to withstand this sense of conflict between different parties for different reasons and how do you make a plan that is for the people.”

Interviews with Architects: Daniel Libeskind Interview: The Voices of a Site - Sheet4
Ground Zero Master Plan reconstruction of the World Trade Centre Site _Silverstein Properties

He wants his buildings to be beautiful; he wants the buildings to work on every level and integrate freshly into daily life; he says. For him, it’s not an abstraction he doesn’t believe in abstract forms. He thinks the building has to express something, say something. He would like his buildings to say more and even things that people sometimes don’t like to hear, that the world is not what you think it is; that the world is not framed like that. When you depart slightly from that frame, the world looks different.

Daniel Libeskind’s perspective on architecture is uncommon. He has that unique approach that is not only based on others but his own experiences of life. He is one of those architects who like to challenge the common and do it in practice. How architecture works, what architecture feels to him is fascinating and inspiring. He is a working example of daring and practicality. His thoughts for his designs might as well give confidence to the many aspiring architects for their designs, in the world, where for every move one makes, criticism is waiting for them.

Author

She is an architecture student currently studying in 3rd year, she likes writing particularly about all the architectural stuff and loves photography. She is still exploring on which architectural styles she is interested in and therefore using architectural writing and sketching as a way of discovering that.

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