Architecture of remembrance and hope: Daniel Libeskind turns 70 | Arts | DW | 12.05.2016
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Architecture of remembrance and hope: Daniel Libeskind turns 70

Famous for designing the Jewish Museum Berlin, architect Daniel Libeskind has created more than 45 buildings worldwide. As he turns 70 on May 12, he is planning still more. Here are some of his most remarkable works.

Preparations are still running for various events around Daniel Libeskind's 70th birthday, among them the concert project "One Day in Life." Libeskind has designed the project for Frankfurt's Old Opera. A total of 75 concerts are to be given on May 21 and 22 at 18 different locations spread over the city of Frankfurt.

Libeskind's idea was to bring music to places where hitherto no music had been played, for example hospitals, public baths or hidden bunkers. "The project combines classical and contemporary music, to show that people need to listen to discover how music speaks to them. This allows the city to open up to them," Libeskind told DW.

An architect who initiates a music project? It's not that unexpected, as Daniel Libeskind has studied music and played the accordion before turning to architecture. "Noe architecture has now become my instrument. Music and architecture both have very technical aspects to them, but in the end the both have to reach people's souls," he said,

The Star of David as a recurrent symbol

Frankfurt, Architect Daniel Libeskind & Stephan Pauly, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Dedert

Architect Daniel Libeskind and the director of the Frankfurt Opera, Stephan Pauly, preparing the concert project

Daniel Libeskind has left his unmistakable mark on the street right in front of the opera, drawing geometrical lines on the asphalt, crossing each other in sharp angles.

The lines on the square in front of Frankfurt's Old Opera are reminiscent of a Star of David. It was also symbolically integrated in different architectural projects. Libeskind is known for designing buildings at locations that have a sad or dramatic history.

One of those is his first major project, the Jewish Museum in Berlin, finished in 2001. The zinc-coated building has become a trademark of Germany's capital. 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.

Aerial view of the Jewish Museum Berlin, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/akg-images/D.E. Hoppe

Aerial view of the Jewish Museum Berlin

Daniel Libeskind's parents were among those who got arrested, but luckily, they survived the Holocaust. Daniel Libeskind was born one year after the end of the war, on May 12, 1946, in the Polish city of Lodz.

In 1957, his parents emigrated to Israel before moving on to the US three years later. In an interview with the magazine "Lufthansa Exclusive," Libeskind said that he continued to feel like a migrant throughout his life, just as his parents did. Alluding to the present refugee crisis, he added that, in his view, people have to learn that the world, and the city in which they live, is not their property, that all of us have to understand that our existence is only temporary.

Libeskind, an architect and a teacher

Following his architecture studies, Libeskind was not only involved in architectural projects, but also taught as a lecturer and professor at numerous universities, among them Harvard and Yale. From1978 to 1985, he was dean of the architectural faculty of Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The famous architect also taught at German universities such as Humboldt University, Berlin, where he received an honorary doctor's degree in 1997, and Leuphana University, Lüneburg, for which he designed the main building. Libeskind also received other honorary titles from other universities, among them his former university in Essex.

USA New York Ground Zero - Architect Daniel Libeskind, Copyright: picture-alliance/B. Beytekin

The One World Trade Center towering in the center of Ground Zero

In 1989, Daniel Libeskind moved with his family to Berlin, where he based his studio, in order to start designing the Jewish Museum there. After he had been chosen in February 2003 to rebuild the area around the former World Trade Center in New York, he moved there, where he founded a new studio managed by his wife Nina.

Ground Zero, a truly gigantic project

The project "Ground Zero" will need years to be completed. Disputes surrounding the costs of the project and the realization of Libeskind's plans, including court cases, slowed down the project.

Many claim that not much has been left of his original drafts, but Libeskind himself recognizes his own concepts, claiming that the precise location and height of the buildings, as well as the streets, follow his original drawings. For example, he had planned his Freedom Tower, now called the One World Trade Center, to be 1776 feet high, symbolizing the year of the US Declaration of Independence.

Daniel Libeskind in his studio in New York, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Schmitt-Tegge

Daniel Libeskind in his studio in New York

Buildings of remembrance

Symbolism in remembrance architecture, Libeskind's specialty, always tends to be controversial. In his publically funded projects, he expresses through architectural forms the different breaks with the past, by adding modern geometrical glittering elements of steel and glass. Sharp angles and corners as well as light-flooded empty rooms are among his trademarks.

He is fascinated by the shape and characteristic of crystals, how strong they are and how they reflect the sun. He also sees symbolism in them: "Crystals embody beauty, warmth and intimacy," he told DW. The same goes for buildings: "They have a hard structure, but the interior environments must feel like a home."

Some 100 Libeskind projects in the works

Daniel Libeskind has implemented over 45 projects worldwide. His main works include the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the Military History Museum in Dresden, the Denver Art Museum, the Keppler Bay residential towers in Singapore and the congress center in Mons, Belgium.

Daniel Libeskind is just as active now that he's turning 70. About 50 of his projects are still in progress. He has also designed furniture and interiors.

His company has recently officially confirmed that Libeskind has been commissioned to plan a museum and cultural center on the history and culture of the Kurdish people in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Here too, the project deals with the history of the country. Libeskind wants to highlight the rich culture and the future of Kurdistan, all while reflecting on the past, with the oppression of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Libeskind describes it as an emotional structure between sadness and hope.

It will however take time to realize these plans, as the region in northern Iraq is still a war zone and the Regional Government of Kurdistan currently does not have the money to pay for a star architect like Libeskind.

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