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Daniel Libeskind: Architect at Ground Zero

From his Jewish Museum in Berlin to his proposal for the World Trade Center site, Daniel Libeskind designs buildings that reach out to history and humanity

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Mark Jones, director of the Victoria and AlbertMuseum, says it is these dramatic interiors that set Libeskind apart from other architects. “People think, for example, that Gehry and Libeskind are alike because they both design unusual buildings,” Jones says. “But with Gehry’s Bilbao, for example, the exterior is an envelope for the interior. With Daniel’s buildings, there is a complete integration between the interior and the exterior.”

 

Like the Jewish Museum, the ImperialWarMuseum of the North in Manchester, England, is designed both inside and out. To create the English museum, Libeskind imagined our planet shattered into pieces by the violence of the 20th century. In his mind, he then picked up three of these shards, clad them in aluminum and put them together to create the building.

 

He calls the interlocking pieces the Air, Earth and Water Shards, symbolizing the air, land and sea where wars are fought. The Earth Shard, which contains the main exhibitions, looks like a piece of the curved rind of the Earth. This building—including the floor inside—curves six feet downward from its highest point, which is, in Libeskind’s imagination, the North Pole. The Water Shard, a block whose concave shape suggests the trough of a wave, houses a restaurant that peers out onto the Manchester Ship Canal. The Air Shard is a 184-foot-high, tilted, aluminum-covered structure that features a viewing platform.

 

The museum, a branch of the ImperialWarMuseum in London, displays machines of war, such as a Harrier jump jet and a T-34 Russian tank, against a visual and sound show that overwhelms the senses while narrating war’s grimness. But Libeskind’s design tells the dreadful story as well, from the unnerving fragmented shapes to the disorientation caused by walking across the curved floor. “The whole message of the museum is in the building itself,” says Jim Forrester, the museum’s enthusiastic director. “The principle is that war shapes lives. War and conflict shatter the world; often the fragments can be brought together again but in a different way.”

 

Libeskind’s design for an addition to the venerable Victoria and AlbertMuseum in London, known for decorative arts, has not been as enthusiastically received. The project won the unanimous approval of the museum’s trustees in 1996, but it provoked irate protests from some critics. William Rees-Mogg, former editor of The Times of London, denounced the proposed building, known as the Spiral, as “a disaster for the Victoria and Albert in particular and for civilization in general.” Rees-Mogg and other critics insist that Libeskind’s design simply does not fit with the Victorian buildings that currently make up the museum.

 

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