Libeskind rails at architects who build
"gleaming towers for despots"

| 45 comments

Libeskind rails at architects who build gleaming towers for despots

News: Daniel Libeskind has spoken out against architects who create "morally questionable" buildings in undemocratic countries, calling on them to consider whether their projects are "legitimate".

"Architects have to take responsibility for their work," the Polish-born architect told The Architect's Journal last week, saying morals should always play a role when selecting new projects around the world.

"Even if they produce gleaming towers, if they are morally questionable, I'm not interested," said Libeskind, who is known for taking on culturally sensitive projects such as the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the under-construction masterplan for the World Trade Center site in New York.

"I'm not interested in building gleaming streets for despots; I prefer making work in the challenges and constraints of a democracy than working in a homogenous system," he added.

"I can't separate the formal geometry from the context of who they were commissioned by and the morality of those states."

Libeskind is also set to unveil plans for a "conflict transformation centre" on the site of the notorious Maze prison in Belfast, where the UK government held Irish republican prisoners during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. "It has such a meaningful, difficult history," he told the magazine.

"For me the project is about building the peace and about reconciliation," he said. "Architecture doesn't work alone, but should be part of the process of going towards a better place."

Last year Libeskind completed an education centre for the Jewish Museum in Berlin as an extension to his earlier project, which opened 12 years previously - see more architecture by Daniel Libeskind.

In 2012 he also designed two projects in the South Korean capital of Seoul – a cluster of three curved towers inspired by a Buddhist dance and a skyscraper with a pointy midriff, both in the Yongsan International Business District that he masterplanned.

  • Steven Holl

    Oh no you di'nt!

  • paper mesa

    Does Mr Liebeskind have any moral objections to designing in a country whose government sanctions drone strikes on children and unconvicted persons?

  • Kyle

    Libeskind is a caricature of an architect. I would suggest he reads Deyan Sudjic’s book on architecture and power before deciding whose clients are morally objectionable.

  • bonsaiman

    He is “not interested in building gleaming streets for despots” but is building the new World Trade Center? Ideology, anyone?

    • yanni_gogolak

      He was ousted from that years ago. SOM took over.

  • Bert Bulthuis

    I totally agree with Mr. Libeskind, but who is to decide which are immoral states and despots? I can not image there will be a list. Architects always have their own conscience to cope with. An extra problem is that also in democratic countries there are immoral clients. A discussion on ethics within architecture and building is really necessary but more in general!

  • collage

    And it’s absolutely moral to design a museum containing an extremely sensitive topic – holocaust – and at the same time realise projects like a MALL with the same shape and that narrative style in Las Vegas.

  • Dr. Evil

    But who will design my underground volcanic lair now? Mwahahahaha.

    • Minion

      Have you phoned Koolhaas?

  • http://www.maxgerthel.com Max

    Contradiction in terms? He gave a lecture here in Beijing recently and everyone knows what that means.

  • Dom

    Excuse me while I laugh myself silly.

  • Tim

    Mr. Libeskind, charity begins at home. According to American academics like Noam Chomsky and Paul Craig Roberts, the USA is a leading terrorist state.

  • bonsaiman

    Can’t wait for Mr. Libeskind’s plans for the new Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

  • Chris

    A bit more specificity would be nice within his commentary. It’s very easy to make blanket statements like his without giving actual examples of what he considers immoral. Just under the article there are two more posts of Libeskind projects that appear to be just the gleaming towers that he refers to (Harmony Tower and Dancing Towers); were these projects exceptions to his rule? Both of those projects have the same look and feel of myriad mixed-use projects from the large, corporate firms that he seems to be calling out. A bit more class would be appreciated, Mr. Libeskind.

  • guest

    Two words: DRONE STRIKE

  • aesop

    I’m convinced Daniel and Nina Libeskind would happily design a monument to Adolf Hitler if they got paid enough money and were garanteed the chance to build wedgy, pointy, shardy crap, particularly if it destroyed or penetrated an historical structure.

  • Siuhtlub Treb

    Pointing the finger and imposing sanctions to populations for misbehavior, Mr.Libeskind is a true Imperial architect.

  • wasserman

    What are Libeskind’s views on architects who design dumb curvy towers in Warsaw?

    … or gleaming twisty towers in Yongsan (Dancing Towers)?
    … or agressive museum additions in Dresden, Denver and Toronto?
    … or corporate schlockitecture in Yongsan (Harmony Tower)?
    … or on grief-mongering, ambulance-chasing architects selling themselves as healers?

  • plfhoen

    Despite all the negative comments, he has a point.

  • Captain Obvious

    Well. This is awkward.

  • Christine

    Was it directed at Rem Koolhaas?

  • dneus

    The above comments are pathetic. If anyone who commented had bothered to read the referenced article, you would see that Libeskind was explicitly asked by the interviewer: “What would be your guidance to architects considering the ethics of working – or not working – for certain clients?”, and gave his honest response. His first words were: “Everyone has to respond to this individually”.

    Whatever you think of his work, Libeskind upholds his own moral code, which is a rare thing for a famous contemporary architect. There is a marked difference between nations with well-documented human rights abuses and despotic rulers, and the US – a democracy that values the rights of its own citizens. Whether the US values the rights of foreign citizens is for another discussion in a very different context.

    And while you might think you sound clever and well-informed, equating Libeskind’s commercial buildings, apartment towers, memorials or museums with vanity projects for oppressive regimes is patent nonsense.

    I haven’t admired the architect’s work since his Berlin Museum. But I admire his stance on procuring projects. His views deserve better consideration than what has been mustered here.

    • Paper Mesa

      Does a nation that holds near total powers of surveillance on its own citizens value their rights to privacy as enshrined by its own constitution?

      Does a nation that sanctions drone strikes on its own citizens value their right to life?

      Does a nation that willingly denies the most needy basic healthcare or welfare, that actively punishes minorities in denying them their democratic right to vote; does that nation really value its citizens?

    • Kevin

      Daniel Libeskind designed the Gazprom Tower in St Petersburg for the dodgiest of Russian super-corporations with extensive ties to the autocratic Russian government. The man is a massive hypocrite, no two ways about it.

  • Scott W

    Change should start from within for Mr. Libeskind. Although these are nice sentiments, it is impossible to dictate the morals of a structure’s end user without actually being a despot yourself.

    Today the California Academy of the Sciences is a beautiful building that seeks to educate and inspire the public, but tomorrow a militant fundamentalist could take over San Francisco and turn it into a prison camp (theoretically).

    • Monty

      CAS is a lovely building nicely detailed, but it's pure state propaganda.

  • JayCee

    Architects should learn when to keep their mouths shut, or else reveal themselves to be the vacuuous morons everyone suspected them to be in the first place.

    • Monty

      You're referring to the commenters here? Then, yes, I agree. Also, see comment above by Dneus (25 Feb)

  • Eamon

    I find it odd that an architect whose work is widely despised for being culturally insensitive and disrespectful of regional values should claim a moral high ground for himself. He can’t have it both ways.

  • Kate Millington

    He should stick to his principles, then, and not undertake work in the US. The United States of America is a mockery of a democracy.

    • DiveBomber

      Libeskind will never have to face that dilemma because it is unlikely he will ever be offered another commission in the U.S. His reputation is so low here he has to seek work over in the far east. And with the low grade crap he’s built in Asia (like Run Run Shaw Centre), his reputation is tanking there too. Pretty soon he’ll be dying to get a commission from any genocidal despot dumb enough to hire him.

  • Rem

    In a world with more than seven billion codes of morality and an equal amount of voices bringing information in which the line between propaganda and fact is blurred, there is no way to claim objective justification for your personal choice as an architect. Using our own personal compass, based on information we think we can trust, is all we can do. Based on that situation people can make different decisions and we should respect that.

    We should, however, be aware that most of the products (including oil) consumed by western society are produced in nations where moral standards differ from those in the western world. Over time the west has made itself depend on these countries for its wealth and by now no one – or at least no consumer – can be completely innocent in the moral conflict that results.

    In a technocratic sense it could be argued that providing products and services to China counters the imbalance in this situation. However, a discussion based on this kind of information is impure and depends on too many uncertainties. On that basis the moral of our work, as important as it is, should not be abused as a starting point to make hollow arguments. We instead should start with morality by itself.

  • para

    You are absolutelly right, sir. Thank you for speaking this truth aloud.

  • richard

    C’mon Daniel… name me a great work that was not financed by a despot, usually using the people’s money. Okay, I guess after you pilfer it, the money could be called yours. Refer to history.

    If architects did not sell out (let’s face it everyone in power is a despot to someone) there would be no great works. Everything really big is created to stroke the ego of someone, or to evoke the mightiness of some entity. Even the church is considered despotic to many.

  • Ruminator

    I wonder if the real travesty is the architectural confusion that seems to result from cross-cultural “archiflexion”, the knee-bending on the part of starchitects chosen for name value by social climbing potentates seeking to obscure megalomania in a legacy of presumed good work. Unfortunately, it seems to me the result has been a proliferation of trophy towers looking more like zippy magazine “artist concepts” than archtecture, lacking any fealty to an urban plan or regional or cultural context. Their architects are not liable to be sulking all the way to the bank, however. Greed is still good for the bottom line.

  • Hans

    Don't worry, Daniel. No despot will be calling you any time soon. Despots are usually looking for quality architecture to glorify their regimes. They don't want some cliched, pointy, crystal thing that looks like a developer shopping mall. So that rules you out.

  • Peter

    If ever there was a characteristic that has been shared the great architecture of history, from Hatshepsut, to H.H. Richardson, to Herzog and Koolhaas, it has been: f*ck morals, and f*ck context.

    Thank you Dezeen, for extending to us this valuable piece of marketing gimmickry. Between the glasses, the leather jacket, and humanitarian performances, Libeskind is sure to continue populating the surface of our planet with his branded gestures, which equate in fact to nothing more than really expensive, cantilevered trash.

    • AS Diaz

      Peter, well said! I never hear Libeskind’s architecture described so accurately. It’s a real shame you are not editing architectural magazines and dispatching Libeskind’s press releases to the garbage can where they belong instead of printing them as though they were newsworthy. Keep it up.

    • William

      Yeah, agreed – this guy can’t be given the Pritzker Prize. Let him buy it.

  • nagmir

    I swear to god, every time I see a Libeskind building I harbour this uncomfortable feeling that he has the same gemmology text book I had when I was at college studying jewellery.

  • zizi

    Haha what an hypocritical buffoon!

  • anita valium

    Mr. One-Liner-Libeskind just has far too many simplistic and imbecilic one-lines ready to spew! Just avoid publishing his dribble please!

  • Tellstlikeitis

    So Daniel Libeskind is more than fine working in Singapore, which, by the way is not a democracy. How do you spell hypocrite Mr. Libeskind?

  • Jake

    Wow what a bunch of losers on this thread. Say what you want about his work, but he’s pretty much the only architect who has the balls to take a moral stance and refuse commissions in the Emirates, Khazakstan, etc.

  • Hannah A

    How does Libeskind feel about the gazillions of people who rail against his ugly and “aesthetically questionable” buildings? Does Daniel take “moral responsibility” for the desecration of the local sense of place every time he puts one of his eyesores in a foreign culture?