Building a memory

Daniel Libeskind, architect, artist and set designer of Polish Jewish descent, answers a Q&A from Emanuele Norsa, and tells of his feelings of responsibility towards society and the past

4 min read

Your buildings have an interesting composition of straight lines, angles and volumes. Where do you get your inspiration and what is the starting point when you approach a project?

I find inspiration in many places; in the wonders of everyday life itself. Drawing provides a particular kind of inspiration for me. Through drawing, I’ve been engaged in a kind of personal research into the genesis and destiny of form over the course of my life as an architect. Every architectural project is inspired in some way by the idiosyncrasies of the site it will be built on, by the history and culture of the place, and by the hopes and aspirations of its daily users and visitors. When approaching a new project, I always go on a site visit in order to try to understand what the site is about; what its possibilities, needs and limitations are. After that, I always begin with a sketch – often a series of drawings that develop over time and which distil the essence of the project and give it a sense of identity. The project then takes shape from there.

Architecture is an optimistic art and should always represent a certain hope

Your preparatory drawings have been exhibited in many places, most recently in Italy. Would you call yourself an artist? What would you say artists and architects have in common?

I don’t like making the distinction between artists and architects, and in fact it is a very recent distinction. If you look throughout history, you’ll find that the distinction is quite illusory. Most architects of the past were also great at drawing and painting: Michelangelo, Alberti, Juvarra or Piranesi. Did they consider themselves artists or architects? Of course both.

Your name is often associated with the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the master plan for the World Trade Center redevelopment in New York. What is the relationship between architecture and collective memory?

I have spoken quite a lot about the relationship between architecture and memory because it’s a fundamental relationship. I believe that memory should always be one of the bases of architecture, not only because architecture involves recollecting the ideas and techniques of the past, but because memory is fragile and the power of architecture has a responsibility to sustain it.

Imperial War Museum

Imperial War Museum

Is there a particular feature you think a design for a space strongly connected with the collective memory needs to have compared with other projects?

Of course, there are projects that deal thematically and programmatically with memory, such as the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, the rebuilding of Ground Zero in Manhattan and others. For such projects, I’m always attentive to the collective or institutional memory and also to the memories of the individuals involved. In the projects cited above, these were tragic memories, memories of destruction and loss, and so I try to treat them, and to represent them architecturally, with the utmost respect and deference. At the same time, one has to affirm a hope for the future since architecture is an optimistic art and should always represent a certain hope.

Jewish Museum Berlin

Jewish Museum Berlin

Is there a particular city or country in which you would like to see one of your buildings realised?

I have been fortunate enough to have designed buildings in over a dozen countries and to be currently building in several more. There is no particular country I want to work in over others. Every country, city and even small village offers something unique, and has its own advantages and challenges to work in. I prefer to work on projects that I believe will benefit civil society and public space.

World Trade Center Master Plan

World Trade Center Master Plan

BACK TO TOP