Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Libeskind on history and fragmented urbanism

  • Comment

It was hardly worth the effort of fighting for entry to Daniel Libeskind's lecture at the LSE last week, scheduled almost to coincide with National Holocaust Memorial Day. It offered half an hour's worth of grand rhetorical statements, accompanied by a small selection of slides showing the usual fragmented, shard-like forms which have come to represent the Libeskind brand of architectural product and have now assumed material identity in the much-discussed Jewish Museum extension in Berlin.

Apart from his assertion that he was 'very happy with Starbucks' and other such manifestations of transnational capitalism, Libeskind said little to take issue with, since he omitted any concrete detail or specific reference. He described his work as a project to 'transform the huge generality of urban space into the particular', warning that 'the city is always threatened by the homogeneity of power', where it should be about the plurality of people.

He spoke of the city as a 'labyrinth', and a 'physiognomy of space', where 'fragments come back into the whole aligned with the history of the city . . . but different'. In the huge generality of Libeskind's own statements about architecture and the city, the terms 'labyrinth', 'fragment', and 'matrix' resurfaced again and again, yet revealed almost nothing of architectural scholarship or working method.

This is surprising for someone who has recently been appointed Professor of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in place of the highly distinguished architectural historian and theorist Joseph Rykwert. Libeskind's historical perspective - in which 'cities don't change gradually but very suddenly', and there is always a transformative potential ('something evil becomes good') - was represented by a single reference to the Colosseum, as a building which 'the Romans must have thought would last for ever', but which has been transformed utterly by the passage of time.

For Libeskind, history is a matter of memories and evocation, inscribed as 'future possibilities' in the lines of 'walls, floors and ceilings' - not a question of mimicry and repetition of imagery (again, a generally accepted principle among thinking architects). But it is one thing to implement such a strategy in the case of a building like the Jewish Museum, where the historical and cultural programme was so explicit and single-minded, and quite another to consider these issues in more ambiguous and contentious cultural situations.

Libeskind followed current convention in rejecting the masterplan approach, but he failed to elucidate any concrete framework for the 'strategy of complex programming' he proposes in its place.

Audiences deserve and require more substance than to be told simply that the Victoria & Albert's Spiral in London, for example, is simply 'part of a great composition', in which the 'actions of climbing stairs, opening windows, have to be poetically inspiring'.

Daniel Libeskind was speaking at the LSE on Fragmented Urbanism, in the LSE/RA Public Architecture lecture series vital statistics Equal opportunities seem well served at the RIBA, with females making up 65 per cent of staff holding managerial positions, and 44 per cent of the directors. Staff turnover is high - almost two thirds of staff have held their posts for less than five years.

Churches pay out an estimated £38 million a year in VAT on repairs to the fabric of their buildings, the Church of England has claimed.

All 21 of the federally registered monuments around the epicentre of the Gujarat earthquake - some dating back to the eighth century - have been destroyed. A third of the 217 registered buildings in neighbouring Saurashtra have also suffered varying degrees of damage.

One in 10 gravestones are a danger to the public, the Association of Burial Authorities has claimed.

Unstable headstones and poor maintenance of grave surrounds are the principal problems.

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.