Architect Daniel Libeskind has been the hand behind some of the most iconic structures in the world, from the Jewish Museum Berlin and the hallowed site of Ground Zero to this year’s topper on the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and the Archipelago 21 in South Korea. With a career spanning dozens of projects, Libeskind’s designs are instantly recognizable to millions around the world.
USA TODAY caught up with the award-winning architect, author and artist to talk about everything from espresso and Easter Island to feeling the bedrock at Ground Zero and the encouragement of his mother.
Question: What is your coffee order?
Libeskind: Double espresso.
Question: What is the last book you read?
Libeskind: The last book that I read has just come out – it’s called “Brief Answers to the Big Questions” by Stephen Hawking. It’s a beautiful book; it’s his last book. It’s the best book – unfortunately, he passed away, but it’s a great book.
Q: What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
Libeskind: Seeing all the most incredible buildings around the world in 23 days, around the whole world – Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, South America… Every day, going from Angkor Wat to Mount Kilimanjaro to Easter Island, yes. It was awesome.
Q: Who has been your biggest mentor?
Libeskind: My mother, since she always encouraged me to be an architect.
(Also), my old dean of my school at Cooper Union here in New York – his name was John Hejduk, Professor Hejduk. He always put me in touch with possibilities to support myself, initially teaching positions and so on and so forth. He was just a great friend, great mentor and also, in terms of architectural ideas and the art of architecture.
Q: What has been your most memorable project?
Libeskind: Certainly, two of my projects stick out. The first one, which is The Jewish Museum, and my last one, which is Ground Zero – which is not completed yet – so, my first and my last.
With Ground Zero, I started by having a revelation when I touched the bedrock and the slurry wall and understood that the bedrock itself is a kind of sacred place, on which the footprints would have to go, and the waterfalls and so on. I decided right there and then that (I) never could build where the two buildings stood before. That should become really a spatial memory, a space for people to really access not just from the street level, but all the way, 75 feet down, to the bedrock. And, of course, to all of those people with the slurry wall – the great foundation of the side – and the dam, sort of against Hudson River, which stood up in its own sort of resilient, amazing way.
Q: What does your career path look like, from the earliest days until now?
Libeskind: For me, it’s like a spiral. It’s a spiral because I started my love as a professional musician. Then, I got interested in other things: mathematics, science, and then I really sort of came to architecture. For many, many years I didn’t build anything, I just drew. These drawings and my ideas took me to my first building, which was in Berlin: The Jewish Museum. My career was evolved out of drawing, not out of being onsite and getting commission, so my first building was a major museum. I never built even a small building before then.
I did not have a dream to be an architect as a child, because I was a musician, but I followed the path – the path of reality that took me to unexpected places, which took me to everything I’m doing.
Libeskind: My favorite part is that it’s not a job. Really, every day is a day of invention, of discovery, of elation, of things are that fantastic.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
Libeskind: I don’t have a typical day. One (day) I am flying somewhere to see a site, one day I am sitting and making a model, one day I’m drawing, one day I’m meeting amazing people.
Q: What does your design process look like?
Libeskind: My design process is very traditional. I start by going to the site, by discovering something in the site which is not obvious, maybe not completely visible. I look at the people’s eyes, put my head into the ground, and meditate. So then, of course, I start with a sketch with a pencil and a piece of paper. Then, with various models – maybe a paper model, and then of course the use of computers to make it accurate and geometrically perfect and then, of course, developing the drawings, the more sophisticated models and then finally the building. So, it’s (a) very traditional process.
Q: What’s the best advice you’ve gotten during your career?
Libeskind: Don’t worry, pursue your dreams.
Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
Libeskind: Patience. It’s a marathon – architecture is a marathon, not a sprint. You can never be cynical or skeptical. You have to be a believer. You have to have faith.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Libeskind: Take risks. Take big risks. Maybe people will tell you one thing or another to try to discourage you, but take the risk of what you truly believe in, and don’t give it up.
Source: Susannah Hutcheson
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