One of Daniel Libeskind‘s many projects, is the remarkable addition to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. His design, which he named “The Crystal” includes a four story crystal atrium and a crystalline structure which rises up between the museum’s historic wings of 1912 and 1932, with a cladding of porcelain enamel over steel.
Joey Tannenbaum, one of the eight-member selection committee found Libeskind’s plan most impressive. “Not only is the crystalline concept so unique, but what I loved about his design was that it did not interfere with the daily flow of people who attend the museum. The whole project did not entail closing the museum for the two years of construction, as happened back in the 1980s. Furthermore, his plan saved us tens of millions of dollars by using the footings of the building they were demolishing. This meant they wouldn’t have to do any caisson work, and the structure would simply rise from the ground up without any construction or piling.”
When people talk about his structures, they refer to certain details as Libeskind Moments. “This is probably just a special feeling, a special atmosphere,” he says, “something very unique to what I do.” For example, in his proposal for the World Trade Center site, the spire on the 1776 foot tower would house gardens which he has called Gardens of the World. In the Jewish Museum in Berlin he designed the Garden of Exile and Emigration—49 hollow concrete pillars filled with willow oak that emerge and bind together. “Gardens,” he says, “are an affirmation of life and speak to the world in a very positive and optimistic way.”
Head of the Department of Architecture at Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1978-85, founder of Architecture Intermundium in Milan Italy from 1986-1989, guest professor at Harvard, Yale, the Royal Danish Academy of Art, to name just a few of his teaching credits. Professor at University of Pennsylvania, and the first architect to hold the prestigious Frank O. Gehry Chair of Architecture at the University of Toronto, Libeskind has influenced generations of architects.
“His methods are definitely unique and distinctive—just like his architecture,” says Larry Richards, former Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto. “He puts an enormous amount of responsibility on each individual student and does not spoon-feed them in any way,” he says. “His approach draws out very deep creativity from within each student.”
When Libeskind started in January 2003, he gave every one of his eleven students, a small, thick red bound book which he signed at the back, and said, “Well you just think about that.” The book is a collection of surprising images with almost no text—music notations, a wood block print from the renaissance, a picture of a fish. “It launched them into a creative process to which they had to respond with a sculptural element and move in the next few weeks to the design of a building,” said Richards. “His students are primarily interested in conceptual thinking, theoretical engagement and highly artistic architecture, and then, midway through the term, he surprised them again. He asked them to think about structure, materials and all the pragmatic elements.”
“Daniel is a unique and profound teacher. What he is able to get out of the students astonishes me, and surprises the students themselves. His very high expectations enable them to produce things they could never imagine themselves capable of,” says Richards.
After the presentations at the Royal Ontario Museum Assessment Meeting, Joey Tannenbaum aptly summed up the creative team of Daniel and Nina Libeskind by paraphrasing Ralph Waldo Emerson: they do not go where the path may be—they go where there is no path, and leave a trail.
Sara Waxman is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.