May 12, 1946 • Lodz, Poland
From a very young age, Daniel Libeskind (pronounced LEE-buhskinned) exhibited a sharp intellect and extraordinary talents. As a child in Poland, he discovered that he had considerable musical talents; he appeared on live Polish television at the age of six, playing the accordion. As a young man, having immigrated to the United States during his teen years, Libeskind abandoned his musical ambitions, devoting himself to a different type of creative expression: architecture. After studying to become an architect, he spent many years teaching and developing his theories of design rather than actually creating buildings. By the start of the twenty-first century, with one building to his credit—the Jewish Museum Berlin—Libeskind had proven that he could translate his teachings and ideas into a work of tremendous significance, and he came to be considered one of the world's most innovative architects.
A Childhood Propelled by Music
Libeskind was born in Lodz, Poland, on May 12, 1946, the year after World War II (1939–45) ended. Libeskind's parents, Jews living under the dangerous regime of Nazi Germany, had separately fled Poland when the war began. After reaching the border of the Soviet Union, both were arrested by the Soviets. They met and married in 1943, while in exile from their native Poland. After the war, they returned to Libeskind's father's hometown, Lodz, to find that nearly every relative, eighty-five people in all, had been killed during the Holocaust, Nazi Germany's systematic attempt to destroy the entire Jewish population of Europe. Like many Jews in postwar Eastern Europe, the Libeskinds found that the formal end of the Holocaust did not bring an end to violent anti-Semitism, or hatred of Jews, in their city. Libeskind told Stanley Meisler of the Smithsonian: "Anti-Semitism is the only memory I still have of Poland. In school. On the streets. It wasn't what most people think happened after the war was over. It was horrible." His parents wanted him to play an instrument, but moving a piano through the courtyard of their apartment complex would have aroused the hostility and resentment of the neighbors. Instead, Libeskind's parents bought him an accordion, an instrument that could be concealed in a briefcase. He excelled in his musical studies and earned some measure of fame at a very early age.
"I arrived by ship to New York as a teenager, an immigrant, and like millions of others before me, my first sight was the Statue of Liberty and the amazing skyline of Manhattan. I have never forgotten that sight or what it stands for."
When Libeskind was eleven, he, his parents, and his older sister immigrated to Tel Aviv, Israel. Upon moving to Israel, he switched instruments and began playing piano. Two years later, in 1959, he won an America-Israel Cultural Foundation scholarship, which enabled the family to move to the United States. They settled in a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx, a borough of New York City. Libeskind continued to study music and to perform, but as he matured, he found music to be less and less satisfying. He told Paul Goldberger of the New Yorker, "Music was not about abstract, intellectual thought—it was about playing. I didn't find it interesting enough. I couldn't see spending my life on a stage." Craving a different kind of creative and intellectual exploration, Libeskind enrolled in the Bronx High School of Science.
Buildings by Daniel Libeskind
The following list indicates the architectural projects, both completed and ongoing, of Daniel Libeskind. The building name is followed by Libeskind's name for or description of the project, the location of the building, and the years of development; the projects are listed in chronological order.
Jewish Museum Berlin, "Between the Lines," Berlin, Germany, 1989–1999.
Felix Nussbaum Haus, "Museum ohne Ausgang," Osnabrëck, Germany, 1995–1999.
Extension to the Victoria & Albert Museum, "The Spiral," London, England, 1996–2006.
Imperial War Museum North, "Earth Time," Manchester, England, 1997–2002.
Studio Weil, Private gallery for Barbara Weil, Port d'Andratx, Mallorca, Spain, 1998–2003.
Maurice Wohl Convention Centre, Bar-Ilan, "The Book and the Wall," Bar-Ilan University, Tel Aviv, Israel, 2000–2004.
Extension to the Denver Art Museum, "The Eye and the Wing," Denver, CO, 2000–2005.
London Metropolitan University Post-Graduate Centre, "Orion," London, England, 2001–2003.
Transition to Architecture
Not long after completing high school, in 1965, Libeskind became a naturalized American citizen. That same year, he chose to study architecture, enrolling at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. Libeskind told Cathleen McGuigan of Newsweek that his pursuit of architecture seemed like a natural progression, as it is a field that "combines so many of my interests. Mathematics, painting, arts. It's about people, space, music." When the World Trade Center was under construction, Libeskind used to wander down to the site, as he related to Devin Leonard of Fortune magazine: "We used to come down here at lunch when the trade center was being built. It was the most incredible building in New York."
During his college years, Libeskind married Nina Lewis, who would later become his business partner as well, running nearly every aspect of his firm as it grew in size and importance over the years. The couple would go on to have three children: Lev, Noam, and Rachel. After graduating from Cooper Union in 1970, Libeskind studied the history and theory of architecture at Essex University in Colchester, England, earning a master's degree there in the early 1970s.
After completing his education, he briefly held jobs with standard architectural firms, but he felt stifled by what he viewed as a conformist attitude in such offices. He did not want to imitate other people's design ideas and architectural theories; he wanted instead to develop his own notions and encourage other young architects to think independently as well. He decided to pursue teaching. He taught at the University of Kentucky, and at universities in Toronto, Canada, and London, England, before accepting the job, at age thirty-two, as director of the prestigious Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. In 1985, after seven years as director of Cranbrook, Libeskind moved to Milan, Italy, to found his own small school, Architecture Intermundium. According to Libeskind, as quoted by Stanley Meisler of the Smithsonian, he wanted the school to offer "an alternative to traditional school or to the traditional way to work in an office.... The school was between two worlds, neither the world of practice nor of academia." Libeskind was the only professor at his school, teaching about a dozen students at a time.
The Jewish Museum Berlin
By the end of the 1980s, Libeskind had been teaching architecture for close to twenty years but had yet to actually create the design for a building. His ideas, and his reputation as a thinker and teacher, however, were sufficient to win him an invitation for the competition to design
"Reflecting Absence": The World Trade Center Memorial
In the nights following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, architect Michael Arad, a New York resident who grew up in Israel, the United States, and Mexico, found himself walking the streets of the city, unable to sleep. He was surprised and moved to find impromptu memorials springing up all over the downtown area, evidence of New Yorkers' intense feelings of grief and loss. Within a few months, he had begun thinking of a way to design a public memorial to honor those who died in the attacks. His initial idea involved creating voids, empty spaces, in the Hudson River near the World Trade Center site. When he heard the announcement that a competition would be held to choose the designer for the World Trade Center memorial, Arad decided to enter.
Well over five thousand people submitted entries for the competition. The jury, including noted architect Maya Lin (1959–), designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., narrowed the entrants down to eight finalists. In January 2004, Arad's design was selected. Suddenly, the thirty-four-year-old architect was faced with a tremendous task. He was responsible for what could arguably be described as the most delicate aspect of the complicated World Trade Center redevelopment. His memorial, a highly public place that would be visited by millions every year, would also have to convey a sense of quiet intimacy for the many thousands of people who lost loved ones in the attacks.
Arad's design involves converting the footprints, or foundations, of the destroyed twin towers into thirty-foot-deep reflecting pools. From ground level, the pools will appear as empty spaces, signifying the loss and absence of those who died there. Visitors will be able to descend to the underground memorial, where the names of those who died will be randomly arranged around the reflecting pools; the names of rescue workers will be highlighted with a special symbol. Beneath the reflecting pools, an interpretive center will be built that will house exhibitions and artifacts of 9/11, including personal belongings recovered from Ground Zero and crushed steel beams. The memorial will also include a private room where relatives of the victims can go to pay their respects.
Upon leaving the underground memorial, visitors will enter a large public plaza. Initially Arad had designed this plaza to be fairly bare, and his design struck many as being too severe. After being selected as a finalist in the memorial design competition, Arad joined with California-based landscape architect Peter Walker (1932–) to refine his design. Among other changes, Walker greatly increased the number of trees and other vegetation that would fill the memorial plaza, the area surrounding the memorial. The park-like space will be filled with a variety of deciduous trees and other plants, reminders of the continuation of life in the midst of tragedy, as well as numerous park benches that will allow for rest and contemplation.
the Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany's capital city. Libeskind won the competition, and in 1989 he began work on the museum, a project that would take a decade to complete. While the museum would present the entirety of Jewish history in Berlin, Libeskind believed that the Holocaust, a defining event for Germany and particularly for German Jews, would have to be significantly represented. At the Daniel Libeskind Web site, the architect explains that he realized "the necessity to integrate physically and spiritually the meaning of the Holocaust into the consciousness and memory of the city of Berlin." Having lost so many relatives to the Holocaust, Libeskind felt a special connection to the project. The form the building takes—a long, angular zigzag—represents a sort of flattened, rearranged version of the six-pointed Jewish Star, or Star of David, which millions of Jews in Germany, Poland, and elsewhere were forced by the Nazis to wear on their clothing as a means of identification. The shape of the building was also derived from the locations of the homes of some important Berlin Jews. Libeskind plotted out these addresses, drew lines connecting them, and used the resulting shape as inspiration for the building's design.
Libeskind encountered numerous delays in the planning and construction of the building, which was finally completed in 1999, only to stand empty for two years as various decision-making groups in Berlin argued over the exact purpose of the museum. During that period, more than three hundred thousand people came simply to walk through the empty building, drawn to Libeskind's startling, unusual design. On September 9, 2001, the museum, now filled with exhibits, opened to the public, becoming one of Germany's most-visited museums by the end of 2002.
Made of reinforced concrete and covered in zinc, the Jewish Museum Berlin boasts many unique features. Libeskind conceived of an area known as the Voids, empty rooms that run the length of the building, separate from the exhibition halls. According to the Jewish Museum Berlin Web site, "The line of Voids, a series of empty rooms ... expresses the emptiness remaining in Europe after the banishment and murder of its Jews during World War II. The Voids stand for the deported and exiled masses, and for the generations that were never born. They make their absence visible."
The museum also includes the Garden of Exile and Emigration, commemorating the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were forced out of Germany during the Nazi reign and acknowledging those who were able to make new lives in Israel. The garden contains forty-eight pillars filled with soil from Berlin; the number recalls the year, 1948, in which the state of Israel was established. A forty-ninth pillar contains soil from Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Planted in each pillar are olive branches, a symbol of peace. Another part of the museum is the Holocaust Tower, an area found at the end of a hallway. After visitors enter the tower, a heavy gate clicks shut behind them, emphasizing the sense of finality and loss evoked by the Holocaust exhibits. The walls are bare concrete and the space is not heated, reminding visitors of the raw, inhumane conditions of the Nazi prison camps in which millions of Jews died.
McGuigan of Newsweek described the Jewish Museum Berlin as "a slash, a wound in the cityscape—a zinc-covered zigzag, its windows diagonal slits. Inside, the spaces are haunting and disorienting." The museum drew international attention and acclaim to Libeskind, and he came to be counted among the most interesting and important architects in the world. In the Smithsonian, Meisler explained that "Libeskind is usually described in architectural books as a 'deconstructivist'—an architect who takes the basic rectangle of a building, breaks it up on the drawing board and then reassembles the pieces in a much different way." Meisler noted that Libeskind himself does not consider himself a deconstructivist; he points out his emphasis on "preconstruction as well as construction." In other words, Meisler wrote, "Libeskind collects ideas about the social and historical context of a project, mixes in his own thoughts, and transforms it all into a physical structure." His ability to create a building that has a practical purpose as well as a deep symbolic meaning contributed to the recognition he received for his innovative design of the Jewish Museum Berlin and also played an important role in future commissions.
Triumph and Trouble at Ground Zero
After completing the Jewish Museum Berlin, Libeskind received important commissions to design buildings all over the world, including the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, England; an extension, known as the Spiral, to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, England; the Danish Jewish Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark; and the Felix Nussbaum Haus, a museum devoted to a Jewish artist killed during the Holocaust, in Osnabrück, Germany. However, the accomplishment that brought Libeskind to the attention of millions in the United States and elsewhere was his victory in the contest to become the master site planner of the new development at the World Trade Center site, known as Ground Zero, in New York City. Competing against many of the world's most accomplished architects, Libeskind conceived a design that incorporated, in its every aspect, the significance of the tragedy that took place at that site on September 11, 2001, when terrorists crashed two jetliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. "But," he explained to Richard Lacayo of Time magazine, "we also want to reassert [the area's] vitality." While the jury that had been formed to award the commission did not actually vote in favor of Libeskind, choosing instead the team known as Think, led by Rafael Vinoly and Frederic Schwartz, Governor Pataki (1945–) and other important players, including the families of victims of the attacks, felt a strong connection to Libeskind's design, and he was declared the winner in February 2003.
Libeskind's plan, titled Memory Foundations, included a number of features, all interconnected and serving to express his vision of the site as a tribute to the victims of 9/11 and as a landmark architectural project for New York and the entire United States. His original design designated large areas of open space, including the Park of Heroes as a tribute to those police, fire fighters, and rescue workers who lost their lives on 9/11. Another open space was called the Wedge of Light, a triangular area that, every September 11, would be bathed in natural light, unobscured by shadows from the surrounding buildings, between 8:46 a.m., when the first plane struck one of the twin towers, and 10:28 a.m., when the second tower collapsed. Libeskind's design specified that the seventy-foot-deep "footprints," or foundations, of the collapsed towers—where hundreds worked for many months after September 11, 2001, removing debris and searching for remains—would be left intact as sunken memorial space. Libeskind also wanted to leave standing the slurry walls, which made up part of the foundation of the twin towers, the only part of those buildings to survive the collapse. At the Web site of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the organization that sponsored the search for the site plan designer, Libeskind is quoted as saying, "The foundations withstood the unimaginable trauma of the destruction and stand as eloquent as the Constitution itself, asserting the durability of Democracy and the value of individual life." His concept included a series of buildings to hold offices, residences, a performing arts center, and shopping centers; the tallest building was to be 1,776 feet, a number chosen by Libeskind to recall the year the United States gained independence from Britain. The shape of the building, which was to be topped by a tall spire, would echo that of the nearby Statue of Liberty.
Upon winning the commission, Libeskind—the architect at that point of a handful of buildings, not one of which was a skyscraper—was faced with the enormous task of overseeing the design of a sixteen-acre parcel of land. These were no ordinary sixteen acres, however. Any major development in a large urban area like New York City presents a challenging array of obstacles for an architect, including political concerns, financial needs, the complications of working in a crowded city, and the wishes of the city's residents. The World Trade Center development added a new dimension to this complexity: for the families of the victims of 9/11, and for many others as well, the ground at this site is sacred, and the process for developing that land is charged with strong opinions and deeply felt emotions.
When he was announced as the new developer of the master site plan, Libeskind was abruptly thrust into the limelight. The press followed his every move, photographers snapped his picture, and his name appeared in the headlines of every major newspaper. Once the excitement died down, Libeskind was forced to confront the complexity of his role. He had to please a number of different factions, or groups, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the transit management group that owns the land; developer Larry Silverstein, who holds the lease on the property and who would be the recipient of the insurance payout from the twin towers' collapse; Governor Pataki and New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (1942–), both of whom considered the development of the site as a key part of their political legacies; the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the government agency that had been created to oversee the rebuilding of Ground Zero; and the families of the victims.
Libeskind found that, in addition to pleasing many different parties, he would also have to cooperate with other architects on the design of the entire complex. He had been chosen to develop the master plan for the site, but he had not been charged with actually designing the different parts of that plan. Silverstein had previously hired architect David Childs (1941–) to design the tallest tower of the site, which has been dubbed the Freedom Tower. Regardless of the fact that Libeskind had submitted his own design for the tower as part of his overall plan for the site, he was forced to collaborate with Childs on a design that would result in both men compromising their initial visions. The memorial at the site would also be handed over to a different architect. An international contest was held to determine the designer of the memorial, and Michael Arad (1969–), a thirty-four-year-old architect, was chosen in early 2004.
Within a year of winning the opportunity to oversee the new World Trade Center complex, Libeskind's original plan had undergone dramatic changes. His tall tower had been changed completely by Childs; his suggestions for memorial space had been overridden by the design of Arad; plans for the slurry walls to remain standing had been scrapped due to engineering concerns; and his proposal for the Wedge of Light plaza had been incorporated as an element of Spanish-born architect Santiago Calatrava's design for the new transportation station.
While the reality of the World Trade Center commission turned out to be far more complex and tangled than Libeskind may have bargained for, and while he surely will have to compromise far more than he would like, the project still offers him the opportunity to be at the helm of one of the most significant building projects in American history. The new World Trade Center could benefit greatly from Libeskind's unique ability to take lofty ideas and powerful emotions and translate them into the physical forms of buildings.
For More Information
Cockfield, Errol A., Jr. "Arad's Vision Reshapes Lower Manhattan." Newsday (February 23, 2004).
Eylon, Lili. "Libeskind Zigzag in Berlin." Architecture Week (November 7, 2001).
Goldberger, Paul. "Urban Warriors." New Yorker (September 15, 2003): p. 73.
"An Interview with WTC Memorial Designer Michael Arad." Architectural Record (March 2, 2004).
Lacayo, Richard. "O Brave New World!" Time (March 10, 2003): p. 58.
Leonard, Devin. "Tower Struggle." Fortune (January 26, 2004): p. 76.
McGuigan, Cathleen. "Daniel Libeskind Takes Home the Prize." Newsweek (March 10, 2003): pp. 58–60.
Meisler, Stanley. "Daniel Libeskind: Architect at Ground Zero." Smithsonian (March 2003): p. 76.
Novitski, B. J. "Libeskind Scheme Chosen for WTC." Architecture Week (March 5, 2003).
Daniel Libeskind. http://daniel-libeskind.com/daniel/index.html (accessed on May 30, 2004).
Jewish Museum Berlin. http://www.jmberlin.de/ (accessed on May 30, 2004).
"Memorial Design." Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. http://www.lowermanhattan.info/rebuild/memorial_design/default.asp (accessed on May 30, 2004).
"Studio Daniel Libeskind." Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. http://www.lowermanhattan.info/rebuild/new_design_plans/firm_d/default.asp (accessed on May 30, 2004).
"Libeskind, Daniel." UXL Newsmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/general/culture-magazines/libeskind-daniel
"Libeskind, Daniel." UXL Newsmakers. . Retrieved September 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/general/culture-magazines/libeskind-daniel
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Johnson & and Wigley (1988);
Libeskind (1997, 2001);
A. Müller (ed.) (1990);
Salingaros et al. (2004);
The Times (13 Jan. 2004), T2, 16
"Libeskind, Daniel." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/libeskind-daniel
"Libeskind, Daniel." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Retrieved September 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/libeskind-daniel
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Daniel Libeskind, 1946–, American architect, b. Łódź, Poland. He moved to the United States in 1959, becoming a citizen in 1965. He has held a number of teaching posts, notably at the Cranbrook Academy of Art (1978–85) and the universities of Pennsylvania and Toronto, and early in his career was known mainly as an academic and theorist. His first major building, the dramatic Jewish Museum Berlin (2001), has an angular titanium-on-zinc exterior, a floor plan reminiscent of the Magen David, and an empty, concrete-walled space (the Void) symbolic of the absence wrought by the Holocaust. His other designs include the Felix Nussbaum Museum, Osnabrück, Germany (1998); the Imperial War Museum, Manchester, England (2002); the Danish Jewish Museum, Copenhagen (2004); the Wohl Convention Center, Tel Aviv (2005); the Hyundai office tower, Seoul (2005); and the Denver Art Museum addition (2006). Libeskind became world famous in 2003 when he won the design competition for the master rebuilding plan for New York's World Trade Center site, but in the years since his role in the project has been severely curtailed. His books include Between Zero and Infinity (1981), Countersign (1992), and The Space of Encounter (2001).
See his memoir, Breaking Ground: An Immigrant's Journey from Poland to Ground Zero (2004).
"Libeskind, Daniel." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/libeskind-daniel
"Libeskind, Daniel." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved September 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/libeskind-daniel
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LIBESKIND, DANIEL (1946– ), U.S. architect. From Lodz in Poland, where his parents bought their seven-year-old boy an accordion because they did not think a Jew should be seen with a piano, the family moved to Israel in 1957. There, he won a music competition. One of the judges was violinist Isaac *Stern, who urged him to switch to the piano. Two years later, Libeskind and his family moved to a one-room apartment in the Bronx. Libeskind soon tired of the piano. "Music was not about abstract intellectual thought – it was about playing … I couldn't see spending my life on the stage," he said. After attending the Bronx High School of Science, Libeskind went to Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York, where he became a prize student and was offered a job with architect Richard *Meier. He quit this firm after seven days, complaining that Meier's style was a high-class form of standardization. In 1969, he married Nina Lewis, who became his organizer and together the team became known as "Studio Libeskind." To pursue architecture, Libeskind went to the University of Essex in England, where in 1971 he earned a master's degree in the history and theory of architecture. After a few years of teaching, he accepted a job as head of the elite school of architecture at Cranbrook Academy in Michigan, an astonishing appointment for a 32-year-old. After seven years, Libeskind and his wife left Cranbrook for Milan, Italy. His theoretical drawings for a housing project in Berlin won a prize in 1987. These drawings caught the attention of architect Philip Johnson, who included them in an exhibit called "Deconstructivist Architecture" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His career was made. In 1989, while he was a Getty Scholar in Los Angeles, his design for the Berlin Jewish history museum won the open competition. In 1991, before exhibit installations, the museum became famous for the way Libeskind incorporated the tragedy of German Jewish history into the structure of the building. There were slanted walls, a dark tower, slits for windows, and an empty space, a void, running through the whole construction, all designed to create anxiety. In 1998, the Felix Nussbaum Haus opened in Osnabruck, Germany, a Libeskind design, which was a small museum built by the city to memorialize the tragic fate of the painter whose life was cut short by the Holocaust. When in February 2003, Studio Libeskind won the competition for the design of the World Trade Center in New York, immediate conflicts occurred with the owner of the building, who wanted his architect, David Childs, of Skidmore Owings & Merrill to do the design. Childs and Libeskind worked out a compromise. Libeskind buildings have been built in Mallorca, London, Copenhagen, Seoul, and Tel Aviv. At least 11 more were being designed in 2005. In 2004 Libeskind was appointed cultural ambassador for architecture by the U.S. Department of State.
D. Libeskind, Breaking Ground (2004); B. Schneider, The Jewish Museum Berlin (1999).
[Betty R. Rubenstein (2nd ed.)]
"Libeskind, Daniel." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/libeskind-daniel
"Libeskind, Daniel." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved September 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/libeskind-daniel
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Born May 12, 1946, in Lódz, Poland; married Nina Lewis (an architectural–office manager), c. 1969; children: two sons, one daughter. Education: Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York, NY, B.A., 1970; Essex University, Colchester, England, M.A., 1972.
Worked for architect Richard Meier, early 1970s; taught architecture at universities in Kentucky, London, England, and Toronto, Canada; head of architecture school, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI, 1978–85; founded private graduate academy, Architecture Intermundium, Milan, Italy, 1985; won first architectural commission for the Jewish Museum, Berlin, and opened Studio Daniel Libeskind in Berlin, 1989; selected as primary architect for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site, New York City, 2003.
An imaginative proposal submitted by architect Daniel Libeskind trounced some stiff competition and was chosen in early 2003 to serve as the master plan for the rebuilding of the 16–acre World Trade Center (WTC) site in New York City. While Libeskind is a respected name in his field, he was primarily known as an architectural theorist and teacher, having won just a handful of museum– design commissions before landing the WTC project, but he was considered an adroit diplomat in dealing with the sometimes–conflicting private–interest and municipal goals that often play out in the realm of urban architecture. As such, critics considered him the ideal architect to transform the ill–fated landscape of Lower Manhattan where, noted New Yorker writer Paul Goldberger, "the goal is to meld sacred space with a functioning city, and Libeskind has a natural instinct for that."
Libeskind is of Polish–Jewish heritage. Both parents had separately fled Poland after Nazi Germany's invasion of the country in 1939, fearing anti–Semitic reprisals, and made it to the Soviet Union border, where they were arrested and interned in Siberia. They returned after the war to Lódz, the hometown of Libeskind's father, and learned that nearly all of their family on each side had died in the Holocaust—some 85 victims in all. Libeskind was born in the city in 1946, and proved a talented young accordionist as a child. His parents had chosen the instrument for him over the piano, for to have brought one in via the common courtyard in their apartment building would have made the distinctly wrong impression on their neighbors, as Libeskind recalled in an interview with Stanley Meisler in the Smithsonian. "Anti–Semitism," he said, "is the only memory I still have of Poland.… It wasn't what most people think happened after the war was over."
Libeskind's talents were so impressive that he even delivered the first live musical performance on Polish television at the age of six. When he was eleven, the family, which included a sister, left Poland for Israel and settled in Tel Aviv. A year later, Libeskind won a coveted America–Israel Cultural Foundation scholarship, whose past recipients included violinist Itzhak Perlman, and with it a visa for his family to emigrate. They settled in the New York City borough of the Bronx, and not long afterward Libeskind enrolled in the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. He continued to pursue his musical interests, and even gave the occasional piano concert. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1965.
In the early 1960s, Libeskind entered the architecture program at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. He chose the field, in part, because it "combines so many of my interests," Newsweek's Cathleen McGuigan quoted him as saying. "Mathematics, painting, arts. It's about people, space, music." He completed a graduate degree in the history and theory of architecture at Essex University in Colchester, England, in 1972, and though he was hired by top firms such as Richard Meier's office, Libeskind rarely lasted longer than a week on any job at a practice. "I didn't like the smell, the atmosphere, the hierarchy" of such offices, he wryly admitted in a talk before the Royal Geographical Society of London, according to Building Design writer Catherine Croft.
Instead Libeskind took teaching posts at universities in Kentucky, London, and Toronto, and in 1978 was named head of the school of architecture at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. It was a prestigious job for someone just 32 years old, for Cranbrook was a world–renowned, highly selective training ground for the creative professions. After seven years there, Libeskind left to establish his own educational community, Architecture Intermundium, in Milan, Italy. He was its only professor, and taught just a dozen students at a time.
Libeskind opened his own practice in Berlin, Germany, after winning the commission to build a Jewish Museum in the city in 1989. The project was an emotionally resonant one: the city had once served as home to Germany's thriving Jewish culture in the decades before World War II, but a Nazi regime with headquarters in this German capital set out to rid the nation, and then the rest of conquered Europe, of its Jewish population with a ruthless bureaucratic efficiency. Taking into account this historical tragedy, Libeskind read the case files of German–Jewish families who lived in the neighborhood of the proposed museum site, most of whom were deported and died in Nazi concentration camps. He created a matrix based on the geographical addresses of famed Berliner Jews, and from those points mapped out the zigzag design of the building, which gave it a Star of David shape.
Libeskind was compelled to settle in Berlin—at his wife's urging—when several roadblocks occurred before the Jewish Museum finally came to fruition. At first, the entire project was cancelled due to fiscal shortfalls in the city, and even when it was completed in 1999, but not yet officially open, a debate raged over its purpose, and the various factions finally agreed that it would serve as museum dedicated to German–Jewish history. Since September of 2001, it has become the second–most–visited museum in the city after the Pergamon in what was formerly East Berlin, and is one of those rare structures that elicit paeans from the architectural community but has a strong emotional appeal to the public as well. Its modernist zinc exterior houses a narrative hall containing the stories of 19 German–Jewish families, and visitors then enters a Holocaust Tower, closed off by an immense iron door that seems to entrap. That leads on to the Garden of Exile, which features 48 columns topped by foliage and earth from Berlin. The number 48 corresponds to the year that Israel was founded, and a 49th column contains soil from Jerusalem, Israel's capital.
After the success of the Jewish Museum, Libeskind began entering more competitions. His next major project was the Felix Nussbaum Museum in Osnabrück, Germany, which was finished in 1998. The site houses the works of a German–Jewish artist who died in World War II. For a time before his deportation, Nussbaum hid in a basement and painted there; part of Libeskind's design shows these paintings in a dark, small space not unlike the one where the artist originally painted them. The façade of the building is a large concrete slab, representing the blank canvas of Nussbaum's truncated career, but the exterior is beautified by a bed of sunflowers, the artist's favorite flower. Another unusual commission that Libeskind won was for the Imperial War Museum of the North, in Manchester, England. The building houses a panoply of ships, artillery, tanks, and fighter planes, but Libeskind designed a "shattered–globe" space in which visitors contemplate how wars alter the landscape permanently.
When the terms of an international competition were announced to create a master plan for the site of the former World Trade Center towers in August of 2002, nearly a year after the modernist towers, 110 stories each, were reduced to rubble in an attack that involved hijacked airliners, Libeskind went to work on his submission. To prepare, he re–read the Declaration of Independence, as well as nineteenth–century American fiction about New York from Herman Melville and Walt Whitman. The commission, however, presented an unusually tough challenge for any architect: it was the site of the first–attack ever on American soil, where scores died, but it was also a valuable parcel of real estate and nexus for transportation in and out of the city. Several competing parties had a voice in what ultimately would become of the WTC site: the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which was created after 9/11 and made up of 15 prominent board members; the office of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; New York's governor, George Pataki; the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the transit management group that actually owned the land; and Larry A. Silverstein, a developer who had signed a 99–year lease on the WTC towers that gave him ownership of all of its office space just days before they fell. Lastly—but by no means least—was the public input. New Yorkers who had lost family members argued that the site should be preserved as a memorial; residents of the area maintained that a mixed–use plan might be a more viable compromise.
Libeskind's plan, unveiled in December of 2002, fulfilled each of these objectives. The 70–foot–deep excavation pit would remain; this part of the site had become known as Ground Zero, where rescue workers and construction personnel toiled for months to clear rubble and remains. In Libeskind's plan, visitors could peer down from a semi–circular curving walkway into a large empty space below. There, the original slurry walls erected in the early 1970s when the WTC went up were visible. These were devised to keep the waters of the Hudson River from flooding the subterranean section of the original site. Libeskind's plan also included office and residential space, but his tallest tower boasted a rooftop garden that would serve as an eye–catching skyline fixture for Manhattan, "because gardens are a constant affirmation of life," Libeskind explained to Meisler in the Smithsonian. This tower would be 1,776 feet in height, a reference to the year that America gained its independence and, if built, would be the world's tallest building. Other elements of his plan included a "Park of Heroes," with the names of fire and police units who lost personnel in the rescue effort engraved into the pavement. Finally, Libeskind's proposed buildings would be configured so that each September 11, from 8:46 a.m., when the first plane struck the North Tower, to 10:28 a.m., when that tower followed the South one's collapse by 23 minutes, a wedge of light would fall below in commemoration of the tragedy and the 2,800–plus lives lost. No shadows would be visible on the site during that time.
In February of 2003, the finalists were winnowed down to the plans of two contenders: Libeskind's and that of the "Think" team, comprised of several other prominent architects and landscape designers. The latter centered on two towers that mimicked the original, but were instead two empty lattice-work frames that could later house cultural facilities. A press war waged over the next few weeks. Some deemed Libeskind's gaping memorial pit ghoulish, while others considered the Think's group's empty towers skeletal. Both sides retained public–relations firms to put their opposing viewpoints before the public, but in the end, Bloomberg was said to have liked Libeskind's public squares and park, and the governor's office favored it as well.
Architecture critics, media pundits, and average New Yorkers hailed Libeskind's plan for the WTC site. As McGuigan pointed out in Newsweek, New York City is "a place with fewer great examples of contemporary design than any major Western metropolis, a place where development decisions are made by big–shouldered moneymen." Choosing "someone of Libeskind's caliber for this historic project," McGuigan continued, "is a turning point for architecture and for the city, and it sends a clear signal that the public has an appetite for innovative design." It was a sentiment echoed by Goldberger in the New Yorker. "The architectural bar has been raised in New York," he noted. "Ten months ago, it was hard to imagine that the official plan for Ground Zero would be produced by one of the most innovative architects in the world."
Libeskind was planning to move to New York City, to a home and office in Lower Manhattan, to begin work on the project. He has two adult sons and a young daughter. His wife, Nina, works closely with him in his practice, managing the 130–employee office and dealing with the plethora of non–creative details involving new projects, including an extension to the Denver Art Museum in Colorado, a new addition to the Royal Ontario Museum (adding 40,000 square feet) in Toronto, Canada, and a new Jewish Museum in San Francisco, California. He still dabbles in music, and even designed and directed an opera based on the life of St. Francis of Assisi at Berlin's Deutsche Oper in 2002. Architecture remained his primary passion, however, and he was eager to begin work on the Lower Manhattan project, slated for completion by September 11, 2006. As he told Time journalist Richard Lacayo just after his plan was chosen, "I shaped the entire site to speak to the traces of the event and to its significance," he reflected. "But we also want to reassert its vitality."
Between Zero and Infinity: Selected Projects in Architecture, Rizzoli International (New York City), 1981.
Chamber Works: Architectural Meditations on Themes from Heraclitus, Architectural Association (London, England), 1983.
Fishing from the Pavement, Nai Publishers (Rotterdam, The Netherlands), 1997.
Daniel Libeskind, Radix–Matrix: Architecture and Writings, translated from the German by Peter Green, Prestel (New York City), 1997.
Daniel Libeskind: The Space of Encounter, Universe/St. Martin's Press (New York City), 2000.
Building Design, September 15, 2000, p. 8.
BusinessWeek, February 24, 2003, pp. 110–12.
New Statesman, June 24, 2002, p. 36.
Newsweek, February 10, 2003, pp. 62–64; March 10, 2003, pp. 58–60.
New Yorker, March 10, 2003, p. 78.
New York Times, February 23, 2003, p. 54; July 15, 2003; August 1, 2003, p. A1; August 25, 2003.
Smithsonian, March 2003, p. 76.
Time, March 10, 2003, p. 58.
"Renaissance ROM announces $30 million lead gift from Michael Lee–Chin," Royal Ontario Museum, http://www.rom.on.ca/news/releases/public.php?mediakey=gfosuo3dvn (October 28, 2003).
"Libeskind, Daniel." Newsmakers 2004 Cumulation. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/culture-magazines/libeskind-daniel
"Libeskind, Daniel." Newsmakers 2004 Cumulation. . Retrieved September 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/culture-magazines/libeskind-daniel