Design means controversy for U.S. architect Libeskind

SINGAPORE Fri Jan 19, 2007 12:54pm EST

Architect Daniel Libeskind poses after a news conference at the Singapore Art Museum in Singapore in this January 3, 2007 handout photo. Born in Poland in 1946, Libeskind's design was chosen for the 16-acre site of the former World Trade Center destroyed by the September 11 attacks in 2001. REUTERS/Handout

Architect Daniel Libeskind poses after a news conference at the Singapore Art Museum in Singapore in this January 3, 2007 handout photo. Born in Poland in 1946, Libeskind's design was chosen for the 16-acre site of the former World Trade Center destroyed by the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Credit: Reuters/Handout

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SINGAPORE Jan 17 (Reuters Life!) - For Daniel Libeskind, the master planner of Ground Zero in New York, architecture and controversy go hand-in-hand.

Libeskind's design was chosen for the 16-acre (6.5-hectare) site of the former World Trade Center destroyed by the September 11 attacks in 2001, but the rebuilding of the Lower Manhattan area has been dogged for nearly five years by acrimony over designs, security and insurance. Construction is now moving forward.

Born in Poland in 1946, Libeskind became a U.S. citizen in 1965 and shot to international prominence in 1989 when he won a competition to design the Jewish Museum in Berlin.

Libeskind, whose designs are known for skewed angles and intersecting lines, acknowledges his career has been somewhat unusual as he spent nearly 20 years teaching architecture before embarking on his first design with the Berlin project.

"Most people think practicing architecture is about building buildings and working in an office but I had a different path. I taught, I drew, I wrote books, I researched. Architecture is all of those things as well," he told Reuters in Singapore, where he unveiled his design for a residential project for local developer Keppel Land.

Q: Are you happy with the way Ground Zero turned out?

A: "I am the master-planner for Ground Zero which means I am responsible for the entire site but there are many different architects. That is not to detract from the fact that my plan is moving ahead and moving ahead very successfully.

"I am very pleased. New Yorkers come up to me all the time to give me their advice on the project but not a single person has said anything negative."

Q: How have you dealt with the controversy about the project?

A: "It was a highly sensitive project -- it was politically charged and very emotional. Yet what you have to do is to navigate through all this because this was something that is worthwhile and meaningful. No one can be prepared for such an experience. In the entire history of the world, there was never such a competition, never a more highly charged project. And I am proud to say that my vision is turning to reality and that it is a way to remember such a terrible event."

Q: How do you deal with criticism?

A: "Whenever you do something new, it's always going to be in the news. I think that it's good that a project generates public interest because that is what architecture is about. I listen to what the people say. But a critic is only an opinion-maker -- one person. I listen to the quarter of a million people who come to the museum in a few weeks."

Q: Is Asia too obsessed with big and shiny buildings and paying too little attention to basics such as urban planning?

A: "Having tall buildings is a human desire. Nobody needs a tall building but they represent an aspiration, an idea. I don't think bigger is better, but tall buildings make better sense ecologically. Asia is also a very dynamic region and there is a competitiveness and aspiration and that is something new and interesting.

"But it's not just in the region, the world has rediscovered the importance of architecture and the value it adds to society, culture and commerce. It's a rediscovery of the Renaissance."

Q: You've worked in South Korea, Hong Kong and now Singapore. Do you want to build in China?

A: "I have been approached a couple of times but I grew up in Poland when it was Communist. I like working in open societies where there is due process. It's a personal feeling."

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