Encounter with Libeskind

Suitably disoriented by trying to find it within the grim Barbican complex, I had the place pretty much to myself. What other fool would be visiting on a cold wet evening in late December?

The exhibition is presented in a haphazard grouping which echoes the fragmented aesthetic of the architecture itself. Projects are grouped around loose themes rather than chronologically and are represented in slideshows, models and panels. Sadly there weren’t many orginal drawings or sketches to be seen. This gave the show a sterile quality that was only partly relieved by some talking head footage of Libeskind discussing his work on the opera, Saint Francis of Assisi [2002]. I’d known that he’d been a virtuoso pianist and accordionist before taking up architecture. I hadn’t appreciated how much music is integral to the conception of his ideas. When you know, of course, you can see it – not least in the poetic titles of many project elements. ‘Wedge of light’, ‘Park of Heroes’, ‘Air Shard’, ‘Void’, ‘Orion’ – to quote a few.

Of course, it’s the World Trade Center rebuilding project which has propelled Libeskind fully onto the international stage. This project takes central place in the exhibition and is represented chiefly by a reproduction of the winning model from the New York competition. [Shame you can’t get closer] This model gives a strong impression of the cluster of new buildings grouped around the hallowed Ground Zero. The towers, benign sentries with steeply angled roofs all pointing down towards the twin tower footprints etched into the memorial park at their base. The model is lit from within and the translucent walls of the buildings glow comfortingly like church candles. There is strong emotion running through this design which reconciles the almost impossible tension between the need to remember with dignity and the need to satisfy Manhattan mammon. I wrote back in February about the difficulties Libeskind has been having in realising his vision. Having seen at first hand the coherence of his ideas for this site I hope the vision can survive – it will be a fitting and powerful memorial.

A tantalising glimpse of the axed V&A Spiral in the form of samples of the fractal tiles which would have covered the building. The exhibition text describes the Spiral as though it is a live project – a day after the show opened they decided it wasn’t to be. Our loss.

Libeskind apparently makes no distinction between unbuilt and built projects. He’s interested more in the ideas. What it is to be driven by your ideas – sufficiently brilliant to get others to pay you to develop them? The sometimes disorienting visual language came from music. A suite of early drawings, shown in the exhibition, articulated a musical score-like aesthetic which can be seen running through the subsequent architectural and theatre projects. I’d not known this previously. I still don’t fully get it. Those drawings are very mysterious to me. He’s out there on the edge this man.

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