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Libeskind Op Ed: Optimism After Berlin Jewish Museum Opened (and closed) on September 11,

July 14 2005 at 9:31 AM


Daniel Libeskind has a very powerful piece about the most important quality of architects — optimism — in the New York Times Op Ed (qt)

The article begins:

SOMETIMES it seems that the most important quality an architect can possess is optimism. For example, it took 12 years for the Jewish Museum I designed in Berlin to finally open to the public. A few hours later it had to close. The date: Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. That jarring confluence of events not only predated but also presaged my role in rebuilding ground zero. And the memories of what we went through in Berlin give me confidence that we will succeed in New York as well.

When I won the museum competition, Berliners were divided between those who felt my design would represent the new Germany and others who found it too prominent and unsuitable. Many said the building would never be built. Once it was built, the naysayers said it would never be occupied. When the exhibitions were installed, they said no one would come. Since it re-opened the day after 9/11, it has become one of the most visited museums in Europe.

We persevered through seven governments, six name changes, five culture ministers, four museum directors, three mayors, two sides of a wall and one unification - with zero regrets. I was called naïve, foolishly optimistic and worse. Today, of course, the same charges echo in New York. Critics stress that it has been nearly four years since the attacks and claim that little progress has been made. They are wrong.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, chaos gave way to grief, which eventually turned into a burning determination to do the right thing - for the victims, the families, the city, the nation. Yet what was the right thing? Rebuild the twin towers? Preserve the 16 acres as an empty field of memory? The city and state rightly decided that the public should help answer these questions. A first series of designs was presented and rejected. A second planning effort, international in reach and wide-ranging in scope, led to a spectacular display of finalists at the rebuilt Winter Garden. I was fortunate enough to be selected as the winner.

Libeskind proceeds the list of accomplishments at Ground Zero noting:

The master plan is not a straitjacket. For example, if a decision were made to convert some towers to residential instead of commercial use, the plan could accommodate that decision without compromising integrity or sacrificing light and air.

Some things, however, are inviolable. The Freedom Tower must remain the beacon around which the others cluster. It must stand 1,776 feet tall, and it should beckon toward the Hudson River. These are not simply hallmarks of a plastic keychain souvenir. Symbols matter - whether the slurry wall, the Wedge of Light Plaza or the luminous Freedom Tower itself. The quality of what we achieve at ground zero will, after all, define the New York skyline and give shape to our aspirations and dreams.

When I hear the naysayers carping about the supposed lack of progress, I like to think of a phrase written by George Washington in a letter during the bleak early days of the Revolutionary War: “Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages.”

The record of achievement in America then and now affirms my optimism and sustains my resolve.

My Commentary
I give Libeskind points for showing public eloquence for which he has not shown so far.

We have never objected to Libeskind personally. He merely submitted one a master plan and Gov.Pataki an the LMDC adopted it (in a competition that incidentally would have been better served if it had been more broad based and subject to more public input).

Libeskind’s master plan actually holds the seeds for what should happen at Ground Zero — a core block devoted exclusively to the memorial without buildings. It’s Libeskind’s micromanaging what goes at Ground Zero that has caused the problems — including dictating the placement of the Freedom Tower against the developer practical considerations to place it closer to the transportation hub and most importantly Libeskind’s master plan to hide and bury the memorial (70 feet in his initial proposal) beneath other buildings.

As politicans have ducked for cover in the current Freedom Center debate they have declared it was in Libeskind’s master plan.


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