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Eisenman Turns 75

August 10, 2007

Peter Eisenman, who designed Berlin's Holocaust memorial, turns 75 on Saturday. The star architect talked to DW-WORLD.DE about Germany's positive climate for architecture and future projects.

A potrait photograph of architect Peter Eisenman with the sky in the background
Eisenman says he'd love to add a tall building to his projectsImage: AP

Peter Eisenman is an internationally recognized architect and educator perhaps best known for the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (1998-2005) in Berlin. He began his career as an educator and theorist before establishing his practice in 1980. Eisenman is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2004 Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement by the International Architectural Biennale in Venice. He is currently the Louis I. Kahn Professor of Architecture at Yale University and is working on the City of Culture of Galicia, Spain and two commuter train stations near Pompeii, Italy.

DW-WORLD.DE: The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin is the project for which you have received the most media attention, especially in Germany. What has been your experience working in Germany and with Germans?

Peter Eisenman: I've never had a better experience. For me it was a great honor to be chosen to do the [the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin]. I think it was an important project, the kind of project that every architect would like to be able to do.

Germans are very precise, they know what they want, they make decisions, they get things done on time, as opposed to other countries where we work. We've had nothing but a good experience.

I hate to see suddenly negative things coming in to destroy the positive feedback that we've had come in from all walks of life in Germany.

A group of tourists examine the rows of concrete pillars that make up the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin
Tourists at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in BerlinImage: AP

The memorial is currently in the news again because cracks were discovered in the concrete.

We've known about these cracks. They're hairline cracks; they're less than one millimeter. Concrete does show cracks in extreme weather conditions. We're working to take care of it. I don't think it's a big problem, but we are paying attention to it.

Talking about your work more broadly, experimentation seems to be a constant element in your projects. As a teacher, how do you encourage students to continue to experiment?

You don't have to encourage young people in architecture too much because that's why they're in architecture. They're not in it to make money -- they're in it to do things of some cultural, social and moral value. When you've worked as long and as hard as we have, it's great to get the projects that allow one to take risks. All you tell your students is that it takes time. It's not a young person's game.

An aerial view of the Memorial showing the concrete pillars making a wave - like shape
Aerial view of the MemorialImage: AP

Is there still unknown territory to be explored in the world of architecture?

There's always unknown territory. Computer digital programming and design has brought amazing possibilities for design as you can see all over the world. People are more conscious of architecture -- they're more willing to take risks. We've never had a better moment in architecture than we have today.

How do you view German architecture today?

There's some very good, young firms and there have been some wonderful firms in the past: Egon Heinemann, Joseph Paul Kleihues and (Oswald) Matthias Ungers, Sauerbruch Hutton, Terrani, Gerkan, Marg and Partner. There are lots of firms who do fabulous work in Germany. I think German architecture is very good and the climate for architecture is very positive in Germany.

You'll be celebrating your 75th birthday on August 11. Will you be thinking about retirement?

No, I'm not going to retire. I have an undated contract with Yale University to teach. I have lots of things I want to do in architecture – both in writing and building. I haven't built a tall building yet. I would have liked to have built the (Max) Reinhardt Haus (in Berlin) but I wasn't able to. So I got a lot of things to do.

Stephanie Raison interviewed Peter Eisenman