Daniel Libeskind

17 May

When I was visiting the Denver Art Museum recently I saw a book in one of their reading areas titled Daniel Libeskind and The Contemporary Jewish Museum: New Jewish Architecture from Berlin to San Francisco.  I thought it was interesting that the work of one architect was being seen as a complete Renaissance in Jewish architecture, especially when so many find those works less than inspiring.

Since his first main work, the Jewish Museum in Berlin, received international acclaim, Daniel Libeskind has been one of the starts of architecture.  He’s gone on to do additions for some of the major museums of the world and was also the lead designer of the new World Trade Center complex in New York.  All of this has happened after he spent most of his career as an academic – he was already 54 years old when the Jewish Museum in Berlin was constructed.  Libeskind’s time in the spotlight has been relatively brief, but he’s developed quite a name for himself in that time.

It’s this academic nature that irks people about Libeskind (myself included).  Sometimes he seems far too concerned with the philosiphy behind the architecture than the building itself.  Case in point is his most famous work, the Jewish Museum in Berlin.  Rather than being a place to tell a story and allow for exploration and interpretation, Libeskind has designed the building to be one big reminder of the oppression that the Jews have faced in European history, hardly telling a nuanced story or leaving room to appreciate the beautiful works of Judaica on display.   There is also the question of just how good of a museum it really is – if the display cases are laid out well, how accesible it is for visitors, and so on.  He has gone on to come up with all sorts of grandiose themes and symbols for work that is often very repetitive, such as the Royal Ontario Museum and the Denver Art Museum.

The thing is, when I started researching this post I was dead set on being against Libeskind, but after looking at some of his more commercial works I’ve come to respect him as a great architect.  He has created buildings that are extremely unique and beautiful to look at.  It’s unfortunate, then, that the museum buildings that he’s known for leave so much to be desired.  Even sadder is his refusal to stand up for his plan for the World Trade Center, which had the support of so many New Yorkers when it was first chosen but is now being watered down by corporate influences.

Perhaps, then, Daniel Libeskind is smarter than we all give him credit for.  His work often seeks to highlight uncomfortable truths in our society and in the process incites heated discussion on the nature of architecture.  If that’s his mission he’s certainly been successful.  But he’s much more captivating when he’s not trying to make a point and is instead just experimenting with his own aesthetic values.  I can only hope we see more of that from him in the future.

To view Libeskind’s Works: www.daniel-libeskind.com

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