During the summer of 2002, Daniel Libeskind was involved in his first love, music. He had designed the set and was directing the contemporary opera St. Francis of Assissi by Messiaen in Berlin.
He came late to the cultural discipline of architecture. He was born in his father’s hometown of Lodz, Poland on May 12, 1946 to parents who had met on the road to Tashkent at the end of WWII after their liberation from Soviet prison camps. Anti-Semitic feeling was still rife in post-war Poland, and when Libeskind began to show musical talent, his parents were reluctant to have a piano lifted into their apartment from the courtyard. Instead, they gave him an accordion. In 1957, his mother, father and older sister Annette immigrated to Israel, where the 11-year-old accordionist Daniel won the coveted America-Israel Cultural Foundation scholarship, joining the likes of violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman. Encouraged by Isaac Stern, one of the judges, he switched to piano, but lost interest in music, and in 1965, began to study architecture at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. That year, at a summer camp for Yiddish speaking young people and children of holocaust survivors, he met Nina Lewis, and they were married in 1969.
Nina is the daughter of the late David Lewis who founded the New Democratic Party in Canada, and sister of Stephen Lewis, United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. Those who know Nina and Daniel well, say that she chooses competitions, negotiates contracts, and runs the office—giving him the time and energy to create his architectural ideas. “Nina is not an architect,” says Daniel, “therefore we have truly a very interesting time discussing and working on the various projects, so it is a creative partnership.”His turning point from teacher, philosopher and artist happened suddenly in 1989 when he received word that he had won the competition for the Jewish Museum in Berlin. At that time, he had accepted a Senior Scholar appointment at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, and all the family’s possessions were being shipped to California. The moving process was immediately reversed and the family stayed in Berlin. During the next fourteen years, he entered and won numerous building competitions.
His design for an addition to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, called The Spiral, met with some criticism from the press. But Mark Jones, director of the Museum says, “the Spiral is a building of outstanding genius.”
When the proposals for the World Trade Center site in New York were unveiled, Libeskind’s design won rave reviews. Herbert Muschamp of the New York Times wrote, “if you are looking for the marvelous, here’s where you will find it.” The Washington Post critic Benjamin Forgey, stated, “every piece of his surprising, visually compelling puzzle seems somehow to relate to the difficult meaning of the site.”In the years that passed between the time drawings were submitted and the structure was completed, even an architect of Libeskind’s stature had to fight for his ideas. “Of course you have to struggle, no matter what you are doing. You have to struggle with all the limitations of each project, which have to do with reality, with economy, with all sorts of legal and public issues and simply getting something transferred from a drawing to a building. If the true vocation of architecture is to be articulated, proportions, light, material and space take over.”
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.