During these years, Libeskind made a series of sketches vaguely related to the plans that architects create. But Libeskind’s drawings could not be used to construct anything; they look more like sketches of piles of sticks, and floor plans of destroyed buildings. Libeskind says they are, among other things, about “exploring space.” Some of these works—the pencil drawings that he calls “Micromegas” and the ink sketches that he calls “Chamber Works”—are so highly prized they toured American museums from January 2001 to October 2002 in an exhibition sponsored by the Wexner Center of the Arts at Ohio State University and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In 1985, a peripatetic Libeskind left the CranbrookAcademy in Michigan and founded a school called the Architecture Intermundium in Milan, Italy, where he was the sole instructor of 12 or 15 students at a time. “I gave no degrees,” he says. “The institute was founded as an alternative to traditional school or to the traditional way to work in an office. That’s the meaning of the word ‘intermundium,’ a word that I discovered in [the works of 19th-century poet Samuel Taylor] Coleridge. The school was between two worlds, neither the world of practice nor of academia.”
The transformation of Libeskind from teacher, philosopher and artist into a builder came swiftly. A1987 exhibition of his drawings in Berlin prompted city officials to commission him to design a housing project there. That project was soon abandoned, but his Berlin contacts encouraged him to enter the competition for the far more important Jewish Museum.
After submitting his entry, Libeskind telephoned his friend Kipnis to say he had given up any hope of winning but believed his proposal “would surely make an impact on the jury.” It did. At the age of 42, he had won his first major architectural commission. “I honestly think he was as surprised as anyone,” says Kipnis.
At the time, Libeskind had just accepted an appointment as a senior scholar at the GettyCenter in Los Angeles. The family’s belongings were on a freighter making its way from Italy to California as the architect and his wife collected the award in Germany. The pair were crossing a busy Berlin street when his wife admonished him, “Libeskind, if you want to build this building, we have to stay here.” The family moved to Berlin. Libeskind, who once preferred teaching to building, then became, in the words of Kipnis, “a consummate competition architect.” In a span of about 15 years, he won commissions for the dozen or so projects now in progress. In addition to the North American works, they include a concert hall in Bremen, a university building in Guadalajara, a university convention center in Tel Aviv, an artist’s studio in Majorca, a shopping center in Switzerland and a controversial addition to the Victoria and Albert Museum of London.