Reply To: libeskind / Manuel Aires Mateus on the docks

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A lot of architects seem to go out of their way to make simple concepts obscure, to mystify instead of de-mystify at every opportunity, and I would be inclined to put the current occupant of the Presidency of the RIAI in that category. I don’t think he does it deliberately, he just exuberates (probably not a verb) about architecture and the more he exuberates, the more obscure becomes the point he has set out to make.

Knowing this and fearing the worst, I scanned his column in the current issue of the RIAI Journal only to find a couple of daring proclamations, pretty boldly stated, admittedly interspersed with sentences of pure impenetrability.

His second paragraph stood out:

‘I first visited Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish museum in Berlin in 2002 and I still recall being moved at it’s powerful and eloquent silence’.
That’s ok, anyone with Leaving Cert English is going to follow that, but then:
‘The Talmundic rhythms of his narrative articulating the relationships of it’s striated fissured skin to the pre-holocaust habitats of Berlin’s Jewish Community seemed appropriately profound.’ See what I mean. He’s talking about the slit windows and how Libeskind sold us the idea that these virtual knife wounds across the zink skin of the building were ‘vectors’ joining points in the geography of Berlin with individual Jewish connections, or something very like that. Then some clarity rerturns:
‘I also naively believed that the building’s theme and intent warrented that it’s expression and language be reserved for this shrine alone. Am I alone in being surprised and not a little shocked and puzzled to see the same fractured language appear in commercial, entertainment and arts buildings throughout the world by its progenitor and pale imitators?’

Actually, no, you’re not alone! Here’s what a poster to this thread said on the same subject in 2004:

@MG wrote:

This Libeskind style is starting to look tired and empty of any meaning.

In Berlin’s Jewish Museum, I could see the violence of the building as a reflection of the violence inflincted by the Nazi regime on the Jewish people.

Danny boy, you have completely debased the Berlin Jewish Museum for me. The exterior of the Dublin concert hall looks like one of the corners of the Berlin Jewish Museum turned 90 degrees.

Like many architects, I was stunned by Liebeskind’s Berlin Museum. It was classic competition winning stuff, different, graphic, shiny, it must have stood out a mile from everything else submitted.

For the record, both as a concept and as a building, I think Libeskind’s Berlin Museum it is a masterpiece. Like most masterpieces, I think it is also slightly flawed. I used to think the flaw was the window gashes, but I’ve changed my mind about that. The way I see it now, the startling windows are crucial to the impact of the design and they work on any number of levels, as violent cuts (as identified by MG), as a disorienting device, both internally and externally, as a statement that this building is not an ordinary building and that what it contains/commerates is nothing short of shocking and extraordinary, there must be a dozen reasons why the window gashes are justified and appropriate, without creating a new justification based on ‘vectors’ between contrived locations, to me that is the flaw.

The problem is that when you’ve created one masterpiece, people want you to go on doing it on every project. It must be expected, even demanded. I don’t know to what extent Daniel Libeskind designed the Grand Canal Theatre, I imagine he passed it to a design team who understood that their role was to deliver a ‘Libeskind’.

For what it’s worth, I think the present manifestation of the scheme, as illustrated in the published renders, is a giftless shambles, with bits of ‘Libeskind’ mixed in with bits of the Bejing bird cage. My guess is that, when it’s finished and it joins the chequer board hotel (which, in no way, looks like it was ‘carved out of a single block’ of anything, except maybe a crate of mono-tone Battenburg cake) and the slanty red poles on the slanty red carpet, it will be an eloquent statement of exactly how directionless civic architecture has become in the first decade of the 21st century, but I could be completely wrong.

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