View Full Version : Libeskind's WTC Vision Was Born of Socialist Bronx

March 12th, 2003, 12:23 PM
I find this inspiration very interesting... I reccomend the article be read through.

Libeskind's WTC Vision Was Born of Socialist Bronx



As a young man living in the Amalgamated Houses in the Bronx, Daniel Libeskind — the architect selected this week to rebuild the World Trade Center site — recalls being immersed in an environment in which progressive politics, Yiddish literary debates and a community spirit thrived.

"It shaped me completely," Libeskind told the Forward.

It's that same universalistic, secular Jewish attitude that underpins his work today, Libeskind said. "Most architects are concerned with buildings — actually, I'm concerned with people," he said. "There's a big difference. Most architects are concerned with technology. I'm much more interested in the story a city tells, a story a building tells, a story a space tells."

As for the story he's writing for downtown Manhattan, the 57-year-old Libeskind said, "It's the story of New York. The story of the tragedy which happened, how, from the depths of what befell New York, a city rises into a pinnacle of optimism and reaffirms what it is, what it always was, what it will be."

Two days after winning the closely watched competition, the world-famous architect, wearing his trademark cowboy boots and thick-rimmed glasses, sits eating a hard-boiled egg at the restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel.

A short, slight man who looks one part Old World intellectual, one part black-clad art-world icon, Libeskind appeared cheerful and serene as he enjoyed breakfast with his wife and business partner, Nina.

Winning the competition to rebuild at Ground Zero would be a remarkable achievement for any architect — but it is perhaps more so for a man with a comparatively short resume who was not initially invited to compete. "I've always been an underdog," Libeskind said, smiling. "Coming where I came from, you have to be an underdog."

Nonetheless, from the outset, some critics suggested that Libeskind was the obvious choice to design the project: the son of Holocaust survivors, he was an immigrant who thrived in New York City and became an architect whose stock in trade is memory. In his first major project — the groundbreaking design for the Jewish Museum of Berlin — every angle conveys a sense of loss, memory and hope.

Like the museum, Libeskind's redesign of the World Trade Center site is loaded with meaning. Central to his plan are the foundations of the original buildings; the pit — which has come to be known as "the bathtub" — will be left virtually untouched, with the slurry wall acting as a reminder of the destruction as well as "the durability of democracy," as he has said. A spire atop an office tower will rise to a symbolic 1,776 feet and the Wedge of Light, a public space, is designed so that no shadow will be cast on the morning of each September 11.

In drawing on his past, Libeskind also brings a lesser-known Jewish sensibility of a distinctly non-tragic sort: his "fantastic" teenage years growing up in the "completely Jewish neighborhood" of the Amalgamated Cooperative Houses, a hotbed of Yiddish socialism built and operated by the garment workers' union. His parents, he said, were avid readers of the Forward. Libeskind spent his summers at Camp Hemshekh, a Yiddish socialist camp in the Catskills, populated mostly by children of survivors — and where he also met his future wife.

"Coming to New York was an affirmation of the things I believed in," he said of his arrival in the United States at age 13. "You could speak in Yiddish, you could do whatever you want. It was the Jewish capital — no doubt about it."

Nonetheless, he said, "New York is a very heterogeneous city; there's many walks of life. But that's also Jewish — it's not one kind of thing, it's a myriad of things. It's ever changeable, ever interesting."

Libeskind was born in Lodz, Poland, and lived, with his parents and sister, behind the Iron Curtain until he was 11. "Postwar Poland was a tremendously antisemitic country," he said. "The reason why I played the accordion instead of the piano is because my parents were afraid to bring a piano in the courtyard; it would have been a stigma, a terrifying thing. So I could have a piano — but in a suitcase, so it could be hidden away, snuck in and out of the courtyard without being noticed by the neighbors."

As it happened, Libeskind became a virtuoso on the instrument, appearing in the first broadcast of Polish television, winning competitions and, later in life, supporting his family with his talent. "My wife said I often earned more money playing the accordion than I did as an architect," he quipped.

When Libeskind was 11, his family was among the first Polish Jews permitted by the communist government to emigrate to Israel. "It was one of the happiest moments of my life," he recalled. Two years later, he and his family were en route to New York. "Our greatest feeling here was a total feeling of liberation from oppression and difficulties," he said.

"Somehow I drifted into architecture because it seemed the thing that combined many of my interests," he said. "Music is part of architecture: sound, rhythm, tempo, acoustics, our sense of balance. There's the drawing, painting, artistic part of it as well as science, physics, mathematics, constructability and technology."

Married at 23, Libeskind practiced an esoteric type of architecture, philosophizing and teaching rather than building. As his postings changed, he and his family — his children are ages 25, 23 and 14 — have lived everywhere from Los Angeles and Kentucky to England and Finland.

Throughout his travels, Libeskind would painstakingly avoid Germany, sometimes taking circuitous routes so as not to cross its border. Nevertheless, after winning the competition to design Berlin's Jewish Museum, he and his family moved to the German capital in 1989. "It was a shock," he acknowledged. "There were doubts such a museum would ever be built. But we were there. We were there to represent not just the museum but what Jewish history, Jewish memory means in the city."

In a bizarre twist of fate, the September 11 attacks happened the day after the opening of the museum. "I was thinking of Jewish history, how new eyes were opened," Libeskind said. "And then this attack came and I thought, one never knows how history develops. I was determined to do something. I felt personally attacked — it wasn't just that a building was attacked, people were killed — but I was personally insulted."

Indeed, Libeskind was the lone architect bold enough to use "I" while other finalists were describing their visions for the site in a detached third person. Even his remarks at the announcement ceremony last week struck a personal chord by evoking his immigrant status.

Nonetheless, he has taken a remarkably public stance on the project, having met tirelessly with survivors of the attack, community groups and stakeholders. "It's the first time in a long time that people realized architecture and planning are civic arts," Libeskind said.

Still, as the plan evolves from a conception to a reality, critics are wondering if — or when — "collaboration" will compromise the design. "I have to draw a line — people will see that line," he said. "It's not about a line here or there, it's not about the details. It's about the fundamental vision."

While the design was met favorably by most critics and the public — popular opinion was 92% positive, according to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation — some have raised eyebrows at the plan's emotionalism. A New York Times editorial worried about "a crowding of the site with icons of memory and meaning" while the Times of London said Libeskind's design sometimes "drifts into theme-park territory."

Libeskind, however, is unfazed. "I was very offended when someone said my tower — at 1,776 feet — was a kitschy number, as if the date of independence could ever be kitschy," he said. "I don't think they are metaphors; they are realities. They are not just empty symbols; they are the true basis on which I live."

"Those people who don't acknowledge memory have no future," Libeskind said. "Memory is not something negative, you have to channel it into something positive, an optimistic spirit. That's also a Jewish spirit. Golda Meir once said that pessimism is a luxury that a Jew cannot afford to have. I feel that's absolutely true."

March 13th, 2003, 03:03 PM
While I've not been crazy about this design from the start, I felt good about the fact that the project was awarded to a Jewish immigrant to New York. It seemed appropriate and while not a supporter of the design, I felt I could be a supporter of the designer. Now that I'm reading that the attack on the world's most powerful symbol of Capitalism is being commemorated with somebody's "Socialist Vision" I'm so disgusted I feel I might just vomit. He escaped from the oppression of Communist Poland to come to the freedom of America so he could become a Socialist! That very notion should cause every Capitalist financial institution in this city to refuse to provide financing or refuse to be a tenant. Let this proposal wither on the vine and die.

(Edited by chris at 2:06 pm on Mar. 13, 2003)

March 13th, 2003, 03:20 PM
You do realise it is possible for someone to be a socialist while opposing Soviet Communism? *Your chauvinism astounds me. *There are many many shades of ideology between American Capitalism and Soviet Communism.

March 13th, 2003, 03:24 PM
I can't imagine how 10 million sq. ft. of office space and almost a million of retail space can be interpreted as a "socialist vision". In any case, how many people do you know that took seriously what their parents told them as teenagers?

March 13th, 2003, 03:29 PM
This isn't a shades of the left issue. The World Trade Center is just that, a center for World Trade: The international symbol of Capitalism reemerging as someone's Socialist vision. In hindsight though, this almost seems appropriate. The creation of the World Trade Center was like a strange socialist implementation of a capitalist plan anyway. The Port Authority is in many ways the most Socialist institution in America.

March 13th, 2003, 03:42 PM
JMGarcia wrote:
In any case, how many people do you know that took seriously what their parents told them as teenagers?

To your point, when I was a teenager I read Kapital and the Communist Manifesto, etc. and it certainly wasn't anything my parents told me. Though never a Communist, I did buy into some of it in the naivetι of my youth.

However, Libeskind does say, "It shaped me completely."

And the title of the thread is:
Libeskind's WTC Vision Was Born of Socialist Bronx

March 13th, 2003, 03:54 PM
I'm trying to say that this is not a sinister or sensational thing. *It's not worth the indignant pose you're taking.

March 13th, 2003, 04:27 PM
I don't think it is sinister, I don't think there is anything sinister about it. For something to be wrong, it doesn't have to be evil. I don't think Libeskind is an evil man, or that there is some plot behind it. I simply think it is dead wrong, it is flatly and plain out wrong. If the core of his ideological beliefs are in opposition to Capitalism, he should not even be competing for a commission to rebuild and memorialize those who died in the name of Capitalism, while working their jobs at Capitalist companies, in the pursuit of Capitalist goals, working in a building that was the iconic symbol of Capitalism throughout the world.

As for sensational, the title of the article was a bit sensational and seemed almost intent to provoke.

March 13th, 2003, 04:41 PM
My point was that whatever Libeskind believes about socialism or not is irrelevant. My point was that I just can't see any socialist symbolism, politics, or agenda in the design.

The title of the article is obviously a bit sensationalist IMO.

March 13th, 2003, 05:24 PM
Im not sure what to take from the article. I am finding it hard to find a socialist agenda here, Im also pissed with the assumption that if he's jewish, the agenda is communist.

March 13th, 2003, 05:28 PM
JMGarcia wrote:
My point was that whatever Libeskind believes about socialism or not is irrelevant. My point was that I just can't see any socialist symbolism, politics, or agenda in the design.

The title of the article is obviously a bit sensationalist IMO.


Oh, I should say, your point is a relevant one. I steer clear of "agenda" as I don't think there is any plot. He simply disagrees with the ideology of nearly everyone who died there on September 11th. You are correct: irrespective of Libeskind own personal ideological leanings, the program for the site is clearly Capitalist and this was the program he executed upon.

Thank you for acknowledging the sensationalism of the article itself.

If he'd have said, "This is the context of my background and was only the expected inclination I would have in my youth. Of course I have come around to an intellectual understanding of the market based economy that has created prosperity and crearted an environment that has allowed personal freedom to flourish here in America..." or scratch that... if he'd simply said, "yeah, when I was a kid." and left it at that, it would have been unnoteworthy... but instead he said, "It shaped me completely." Which is all together different... and makes me find it kind of offensive that he would accept such a commission to honor people whose ideology he is apparently so at odds with.

March 13th, 2003, 05:37 PM
Stern wrote:
Im not sure what to take from the article. I am finding it hard to find a socialist agenda here, Im also pissed with the assumption that if he's jewish, the agenda is communist.


Who is implying he's communist because he's Jewish? Are you referring to something in the article or something I wrote? I hope you mean the article or something posted by somebody else. I'm not Jewish myself, but I am very pro-Israel. I've supported Jewish candidates for office, and if you recall, I've been outspoken on this forum to give Silverstein the benefit of the doubt (not because he's Jewish, but irrespective of his faith). I even said before:

* * While I've not been crazy about this
* * design from the start, I felt good
* * about the fact that the project was
* * awarded to a Jewish immigrant to New
* * York. It seemed appropriate and while
* * not a supporter of the design, I felt
* * I could be a supporter of the designer.

March 13th, 2003, 07:15 PM
Chris, here's what you don't understand:

The socialist, or progressive ideology of the leftist immigrant Bronx where Libeskind grew up is not at odds with American capitalism or personal freedom. *Your assumption that all progressives are market-hating anti-american radicals is way off base. *It's the same kind of shallow-mindedness displayed by the WTO protesters that decry all corporate capitalists as fascists.

March 13th, 2003, 07:19 PM
And as for categorizing 9/11 as "people dying in the name of capitalism", are you really willing to defend that statement?

March 13th, 2003, 07:34 PM
Chris: Im really sick, so I might not be thinking very clearly. Its why Ive been on the forums so much. Im glad you support Israel, I do too as I have some jewish ancestry, although I am not jewish myself. I think we should all support the man who Libeskind is, him being jewish means little though. I believe a member of the THINK team was also jewish. Libeskind being proud of his heritage is of importance though, he has not hidden this, this is part of the Jewish culture. He has made himself heard, if communist ties was of any importance Im sure he would've made it a point.

March 13th, 2003, 07:37 PM
And if Im rambling I apologize. Keep in mind Im not feeling myself.

March 13th, 2003, 07:38 PM
Are you insinuating that the attack on the WTC was not an attack on the Capitalist system? That those buildings were attacked for some other reason than for their symbolism of American Capitalist power? Do you deny that the overwhelming majority of those employed in those buildings were working for unabashedly Capitalist financial institutions? That their employment by such institutions is what, ultimately, made them a target for death?

What are you saying?
Are you denying any of that?
And if not that, then what?

March 13th, 2003, 07:41 PM
I think we all realize that Chris. But these people were innocent of that, they were going about their lives. Do you think they went to work believing they were defenders of capitalism?

March 13th, 2003, 07:45 PM
dbhstockton wrote:
Your assumption that all progressives are market-hating anti-american radicals is way off base.

I contest your use of the word progressive. I find nothing progressive about Socialism. If you're going to criticize me for any negative remarks about Socialism, stick to the word Socialism. Don't try to hide it under some other more vague title.

And maybe they're not all "market-hating anti-american radicals", then I've as yet to meet a single one in my life that wasn't. Please introduce. I've met many.

Incidentally, most of them populate the Nimby camps that oppose all the Capitalist zeal of the corporations that build skyscrapers.

March 13th, 2003, 08:11 PM
This is getting tedious. *I'm not going to get anywhere with you, so I give up: *Libeskind has no business designing commercial buildings. *The possibility that his personal ideology may be considered to the left of the mainstream of American culture excludes him from participation in any form of capitalism.

March 13th, 2003, 09:00 PM
Chris, stop the nonsense. I often vote Socialist. Many European countries have been democratically governed by Socialists. Get informed. Moreover, as JM said, biographical projections on the author's work are irrelevant. Try to find anti-democratic or even anti-capitalistic meaning in the design or shut up. This is ridiculous.

March 13th, 2003, 09:15 PM
"Shut Up", spoken just like Jacques Chirac. Thanks for setting me straight, from across the pond there, my Parisian friend.

March 13th, 2003, 09:32 PM
Have you ever been to Europe, Chris?

March 13th, 2003, 09:35 PM

March 13th, 2003, 09:37 PM
I'm just wondering where the jingoism comes from.