Interview: WTC Design Finalist Daniel Libeskind | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 05.02.2003
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Interview: WTC Design Finalist Daniel Libeskind

The judges in the competition to replace the World Trade Center like what they have seen of Daniel Libeskind's Memory Foundations. Soon, they will announce whether they like it enough to select it as the winner.


First we take Manhattan: Daniel Libeskind's proposed design

BERLIN -- Daniel Libeskind, the architect of Berlin's famous Jewish Museum, moved one step closer this week to becoming the person who fills the void created by the terrorists who slammed their skyjacked airliners into New York's World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

"It's a fantastic responsibility and a wonderful moment," Libeskind told DW-WORLD in a telephone interview from New York on Wednesday.

Libeskind learned on Tuesday that his concept had become one of the two finalists to survive a selection process in which hundreds of ideas submitted last year were whittled down to seven and then to two. One of those two will emerge as the winner to be announced by the end of the month. The competition now pits the Berlin-based Libeskind against a New York-based team called THINK.

Memory Foundations

Libeskind's design is titled Memory Foundations. It bears this name, the Polish-born Jewish émigré says, because it is about the depth of memory intrinsically linked to the Sept. 11 attacks as well as the foundations of the future of New York.

"It's about how to bring together the seemingly contradictory aspects of the memorial, which is about a tragedy and how it changed the world, but also about creating a vital and beautiful city of the 21st century," he told DW-WORLD. "That's the task, how to do it in a meaningful way and in a way which re-activates the role of Manhattan."

Using the bedrock of the former World Trade Center -- massive slurry walls that withstood the attacks -- as a basis for his design, Libeskind's proposal will take visitors on a procession 70 feet down into the excavated site at Ground Zero, something that Libeskind said was vital to his vision.

'Sacred and spiritual area'

"The walls are not just the footprint of the towers, which is something very abstract. It's a kind of sacred and spiritual area," Libeskind said. "They (the slurry walls) are really the witnesses to the power of democracy -- they withstood the attack. These indelible footprints really capture the dignity and profundity of the event."

Public spaces in the Libeskind design include the Wedge of Light -- a space perfectly aligned so that every Sept. 11 between 8:46 a.m. and 10:28 a.m. the space will be completely drenched in light. The periods mark the time when the first plane hit the World Trade Center and the time when the second tower collapsed.

The Park of Heroes -- the other main public space -- is a matrix linking all the public spaces in the design, and represents the directions and places from where rescuers came to help victims. The 11 million square feet of office space planned for the new structure will be housed in a ring of lower-rise buildings. The design also includes public gardens housed in a glass tower.

Inspired by the Eiffel Tower

The THINK team's design takes its inspiration from the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the dual towers of light beamed from Ground Zero in March. It consists of two hollow lattice structures. The proposal is a "reincarnation of the World Trade Center into a World Cultural Center," team member Rafael Vinoly told The New York Times. The other team members are Frederic Schwartz, Ken Smith and Shigeru Ban.

As the final decision nears, Libeskind is modest about his chances. "I never think of (my) chances. I think of doing a scheme which has integrity and which has a quality which touches not only the mind but the soul," he said.

Daniel Libeskind

Daniel Libeskind, architect of the expansion project at the Denver Art Museum, is shown in front of the existing building of the art museum in this undated photograph from 2001

Libeskind, born in Poland in 1946, is no stranger to replacing destroyed buildings. His most famous project to date -- the Jewish Museum in the German capital -- opened in September 2001, more than 60 years after its previous incarnation was destroyed by the Nazi regime.

No similarities to museum

Although both projects deal with memory, Libeskind said his design for the WTC replacement is not based on the Jewish Museum.

"It's not reminiscent (of the Jewish Museum) although it deals with memory, with how important memory is, with how memory can open itself to something which is positive in the future and not only a skeletal reminder of the event," he said.

For Libeskind, designing buildings was not his first career choice. After leaving postwar Poland for the United States, Libeskind first studied music and became a virtuoso pianist in New York. It was only in the early 1970s that he began to study architecture in England and New York

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