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Counterpoint: Daniel Libeskind in Conversation with Paul Goldberger Hardcover – November 18, 2008
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—William Hanley, Architectural Record
About the Author
Paul Goldberger is the architecture critic for the New Yorker. He also holds the Joseph Urban Chair in Design and Architecture at the New School in New York City. He began his career at the New York Times, and in 1984, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism. He is the author of several books, most recently his chronicle of the process of rebuilding Ground Zero, Up From Zero: Politics, Architecture, and the Rebuilding of New York. The author lives in New York.
Top Customer Reviews
Some ten years ago, Daniel Libeskind emerged on the scene with the completion of Berlin's Holocaust Museum. Initially opened as an empty space, he was, for a time, lauded as an original thinker. (When the museum was fitted out, its failings became obvious, and subsequent commentary was much less favorable.) Shortly afterwards, following his selection as Master Planner for the World Trade Center site in New York, Libeskind became a household name. But he quickly showed himself to be a blustering nincompoop and a loudmouth blowhard who could not get along with anybody. Today, rather pointedly he has not been asked to design any of the new architecture there.
In the years since the Holocaust Museum and the Ground Zero appointments, Libeskind chose to focus on promoting himself, his cheesy "brand", and on developing his celebrity status, rather than on refining the process of design. A hastily-written biography and a pretentious book of "poetry" raised more eyebrows than praise. Intended to foster fame, these immature and self-absorbed ramblings merely exposed Libeskind to a scrutiny that has not served him well. He has become better known for his trademark egotism and haughty arrogance, qualities which manifest themselves in selfish attempts to force his pretentious, non-contextual vision on cities and neighborhoods of which he knows very little and seems to care even less.
`Counterpoint' offers the opportunity to review a selection of Libeskind's built and canceled commissions. It opens with his characteristic bluster (and remarkable naivete), and the implausible claim that Libeskind can work on 30 projects at a time. Specifically, the trademark bragging continues with an equally improbable pronouncement that he "designs every detail, every window, and every door ... to give a handcrafted look". (If by "design" one means a quick doodle with a thick black marker, handed over to an intern, there might be some truth to the statement ...)
Critical opinion now questions whether Libeskind's Holocaust Museum was merely a fluke. The slashing windows and tortured geometries that (supposedly) symbolized trauma for that museum's program were randomly applied to other buildings as diverse in program as art museums and office buildings. The crystaline forms of Denver's DAM were (supposedly) inspired by the Rocky Mountains. Yet they mysteriously reappear in Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum as do the, by now, cliched, slashing fenestration. And the "site specific" geometries intended for an unbuilt extension to London's Victoria & Albert Museum reappear in many subsequent projects. In fact, `Counterpoint' shows that Libeskind's mediocre portfolio owes more to recylcling last year's "bad idea" than it does to the more refined process of design itself.
Looking at the illustrated projects, it would appear that Libeskind himself did not understand what happened in Berlin, and felt obliged to churn out a recognizable visual gimmick in the hope that some Midas touch would kick in. It has not, and most of Libeskind's recent work has been deservedly panned. A common criticism has been that his interiors are mere leftovers of dubiously-derived exterior forms. (The form of a museum in San Franciso is generated by two Hebrew characters!) Users report they are irritating to be in, and highly impractical in use. The exteriors themselves seem to be capricious exercises in graphics rather than meaningful architectural design. The resulting superficiality only adds novelty value where architectural value was expected, resulting in a grating, annoying experience.
Billed as a conversation about architecture, `Counterpoint' is no more than a visual chronicle of a short-lived architectural career first nose-diving into a form of graphic superficiality and now, deeply entrenched in chronic shallowness, is in out-of-control tailspin.
As a catalogue, `Counterpoint' merely emphasizes the dizzying downward spiral from the Holocaust Museum to Libeskind's current role as a pompous clown and an architectural novelty act. The otherwise capable critic, Paul Goldberger, foolishly hitches his wagon to the impending trainwreck.