Libeskind Meets Metropolis

Earlier this month, architect Daniel Libeskind, his wife and partner Nina Libeskind, and their public relations agent came to visit Metropolis’s offices here in New York City. During our luncheon of pasta and sandwiches, Libeskind discussed the exacting research process he uses for every public project, including his front-running scheme for the World Trade Center site.

He told us about studying the urban fabric, spending time on the site, talking to people, and observing their actions. But most revealing, he says he enjoys attending public hearings, no matter how contentious—which he has been doing endlessly in New York in recent weeks.

Here’s what Metropolis editors had to say about the meeting.

“I was struck by Libeskind’s complete absence of cynicism or skepticism,” observes Martin Pedersen, executive editor. “Sure, some of that is part of the sales pitch; he wants the job and is campaigning hard for it. But I think he truly believes that something wonderful is still possible down there, in spite of the immensely complicated issues. This absence of cynicism makes him the perfect conduit, an ideal point man to handle the various stakeholders downtown, from the Port Authority [of New York and New Jersey] to [property owner] Larry Silverstein (who apparently likes Libeskind a lot too).

“I also admire two traits that seem absolutely essential for a great architect: a faith in ideas and a kind of rock-solid patient persistence. Libeskind gets discouraged, but he doesn’t lose faith in possibility. He realizes he can’t win all the time.

“Even if he doesn’t get the job—if there is indeed a job to be gotten—his return to New York is great for the city. Visionary optimism is always in short supply here.”

Senior editor Karen Steen was impressed by both Daniel’s and Nina’s “pragmatic optimism: assume that your project will be built, no matter what the odds, and design it for the real world, not for your portfolio.

“The Libeskinds are sympathetic to the needs of Ground Zero’s many competing interests and appear to work well with everyone, which is stunning if you consider the charged and convoluted labyrinth that this planning process has become. They are resolutely up for the challenge. When I saw their models at the Winter Garden, I thought, ‘We need this plan.’ But now that I’ve met them it’s more like, ‘We need these people in the process.’”

“Lots of architects seem overly concerned with maintaining their image as architects,” notes managing editor Julien Devereux. “Libeskind really seems to love architecture and the whole messy process of designing and building. That’s going to be a huge asset in a project as complicated and fraught as the WTC site. He also paid way more attention to how the rebuilding is going to work urbanistically than any of the other teams, and he seems really to be interested in these questions rather than just paying lip service to them because he thinks he should.”

Laurie Manfra, a recent architecture school graduate and assistant to the editor in chief, remembers a story told by Libeskind during his visit. This “revealed something of the profound bond between architecture, site, and history in his work,” she says.

“He recalled working on a project for which he drew up a general scheme after interacting with it. Uncertain about what belonged in a certain area, he left it alone. Later it was discovered that the remains of an 18th-century bridge lay concealed in the earth in precisely the same place of the void in his scheme. As part of his final design, the bridge was carefully unearthed, preserved, and protected from above by a glass floor-plane that exposed it for all to see. I was impressed by how the stories he told us revealed something of the mystery surrounding his design process.”

And associate art director Damian Chadwick was impressed that Libeskind “has clearly thought out the phasing of the project and its impact on downtown for the duration of construction. Nina Libeskind added that, ‘the sequencing and the pacing was THE longest discussion in our office.’

“As if to prepare for what might be coming at the World Trade Center site, Libeskind said that ‘Architecture is a marathon, it’s not a sprint.’”

Categories: Cities