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Libeskind responds to Maze prison controversy


Daniel Libeskind has refuted claims his £18 million design for the Peace-building and Conflict Resolution Centre (PbCRC) at the former Maze Prison in Northern Ireland fails to acknowledge the complexity of attitudes towards the site, where 10 hunger strikers died in the 1980s

In a letter to the AJ, Libeskind said: ‘The design concept for the PbCRC evolved after extensive engagement with key stakeholders who were subsequently formed into six reference groups: arts and archives; victims and survivors; civic society; public services; first-responders and ex-prisoners; and education. This was a comprehensive approach to build trust, support, advice and to create a mandate that would drive the process of development and the process of design.

‘We believe that our design reflects an incremental process that is very much like the Northern Ireland Peace Process itself. The design was driven by people’s aspirations, it was appreciated and endorsed, and it has now received planning permission.

He added: ‘I did not say that the design of the Centre should reflect any particular group’s story. I listened extensively to the multiple perspectives presented and what I said was, “All stories should be told,” which has been everyone’s goal from the start.

‘For Studio Daniel Libeskind this project is incredibly meaningful. It is our belief that this process, design and project sends a message about the possibility of a future beyond conflict.’

Criticising the £18 million scheme, AJ deputy editor Rory Olcayto in an opinion article (AJ 02.05.13) said: ‘Libeskind says he “always believed architecture is a story-telling profession” and, despite confusion in the province over how - or if - the centre will remember 10 men who died during the republican hunger strikes at the prison in 1981, their particular story was one he wants his building to tell.

‘The problem is, unlike the Holocaust, … there’s no consensus on that specific matter, nor much else that happened during Northern Ireland’s long sectarian war.’

Belfast-based McAdam Design with Daniel Libeskind was appointed to design the project August last year.

Planned to open in 2015, the 4,500m² scheme will be located on the grounds of the jail’s former ‘H-blocks’ which were used to house paramilitaries.

The scheme is the latest development for the controversial 140 hectare site where a multi-sport stadium bid by HOK failed six years ago.

Studio Egret West has submitted plans for a new 28 hectare headquarters for the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society which will be next to Libeskind and McAdam’s 9.7 hscheme.





Readers' comments (3)

  • ‘‘I did not say that the design of the Centre should reflect any particular group’s story. I listened extensively to the multiple perspectives presented and what I said was....All stories should be told”. While this is a very valid and logical starting point for any dialogue to commence, the problem is Daniel that you are “telling” this very important narrative through the same regurgitated empty formalism you have told similar narratives of conflict, loss, opulence and capitalism.

    The story of the Troubles, and in particular that of the Hunger Strikers is a difficult on to address, but attempting to address it in a blanket non partisan manner is flawed and ill-conceived. Both sides of the conflict have stories to tell and their accounts should be given equal attention, but in discrediting the importance of stories that are intrinsic to the site in question Libeskind and co are discrediting the site’s importance. The result appears to be the alien spacecraft Libeskind has landed on the site.

    “It is our belief that this process, design and project sends a message about the possibility of a future beyond conflict.’’ If your ambition was to look to NI’s future through this medium of copy and paste architecture then the future of NI will be as empty as the architecture Mr Libeskind continues to (re)create.

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  • Libeskind's pro-forma response is telling for how little it actually says. Although full of empty platitudes and calculated sound bites, he fails to explain exactly HOW his building tells any story beyond the story of Daniel Libeskind's own ego and his need to force and impose his will (expressed in aggressive, attention-getting formalism), on this site. How, for example, do his formulaic angled walls reflect the struggles particular to Northern Ireland? And why do the tilted boxes used in the Jewish Museum annexe seem to do double duty expressing a Catholic-Protestant conflict as well?

    Of course there are no answers to these questions. Despite his pretense to the contrary, it is obvious to anyone that Libeskind "heard" nothing from the participants and merely set about embedding his own "brand" on thew site without reference to local context, culture or sensibilities. A decade of uninspired, vapid and wholly fatuous work packaged in saccharine but ultimately meaningless rhetoric and architectural jargon have only reconfirmed Libeskind's superficial approach to design. Libeskind's cavalier approach to the Maze project is notably clear from the incredibly sloppy and thoughtless drawings he submitted. His continued presence in this process is an insult to the people of Northern Ireland. The best thing he could do to help the healing process would be to pack up his roll of drawings and get on the first flight home before he adds further insult.

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  • Libeskind can waffle on all day about “extensive engagement with key stakeholders”, or “comprehensive approach to build trust, advice and to create a mandate that would drive the process of development and the process of design.”, but the reality of his design speaks otherwise. As others have stated, Libeskind’s cut and paste solution serves only to build Libeskind’s brand, arguably Daniel’s only goal on any and every project. A casual glance at Libeskind’s portfolio shows the one-size-fits-all approach he uses for diverse typologies in varied climates and dissimilar cultural contexts. Need a church? “Have you seen our new wedge-shaped altar series?” Need a Museum? “Sloped walls are ideal for hanging artwork these days.” And if you need a soft comfortable chair, Libeskind has a sharp trapezoidal object he wants you to sit on.

    It would be a mistake to assume any Libeskind design will ever reflect the stories of Catholics, Protestants, civilians, paramilitaries, innocent victims or anyone else in Northern Ireland. Libeskind’s projects are always about HIM. His ego and smarmy sense of superiority does not allow him to think otherwise. He’ll pour on the soppy bromides, slather on the syrupy sentiment and mention how much he loves Ireland and the Irish people, but he’ll never lose sight of the wedgy shard cliché he wants to force on you in order to build his own hollow and inconsequential brand of intellectual nothingness. Ergo the condescending and dissembling letter from his office in support of this insipid, mushy, uninflected collage of previous projects shoved together without thought, respect or clarity of purpose.

    Libeskind’s continued presence in Northern Ireland pours salt in the wounds of every victim of the Troubles. If the healing process is to continue, we must remove the mistrust and phoniness that he brings to the table.

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