Ignore the critics – Beethoven was "a failure"
in their eyes too, says Daniel Libeskind



News: architect Daniel Libeskind has hit back at his critics, comparing his own work to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and saying that he doesn't try to be liked, at the launch of an exhibition in Milan this week.

Speaking to Dezeen at the launch of Where Architects Live, a major installation of pavilions, photographs and films about the homes of starchitects, Libeskind said that it takes time for the public to appreciate greatness.

"When things are first shown they are difficult," Libeskind told Dezeen. "If you read the reviews of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, it was a failure, a horrible piece of music."

"You have to give it time. Architecture is not just for the moment, it is not just for the next fashion magazine. It's for the twenty, thirty, fifty, one hundred, two hundred years if it's good; that's sustainability."

Asked if he was bothered by the high levels of criticism his recent work has received, Libeskind replied that he never reads his critics and said that he doesn't try to be liked.

"It's a democratic world, they can say whatever they want," he said. "How can I read them? I have more important things to read."

He also made reference to a passage from the Bible, adding "look at 6:26. "Woe be to the man who is liked by everyone". So if you read the New Testament, don't try to be liked by everyone and do what you believe in."

Libeskind cemented his reputation as a major name with the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which opened in 2001, but in recent years has come under attack from critics of his angular style.

Speaking about Libeskind's plans for the World Trade Centre rebuilding project in 2008, LA Times critic Christopher Hawthorne said: "anyone looking for signs that Daniel Libeskind's work might deepen profoundly over time, or shift in some surprising direction, has mostly been doing so in vain."

British philosopher Roger Scruton accused Libeskind of being one of a group of architects who "have equipped themselves with a store of pretentious gobbledegook with which to explain their genius to those who are otherwise unable to perceive it," in an article in the UK's Times newspaper in 2011.

In 2012, novelist Will Self accused Libeskind of putting money before art in an outspoken attack on high profile architects reported in British architecture magazine BD.

And last year architecture critic Owen Hatherley said that Libeskind's students' union for London Metropolitan University "was one of the first instances where it became crystal clear that Libeskind's formal repertoire of Caspar David Friedrich crashing and banging was not, actually, about war or the Holocaust."

"All of its vaulting, aggressive gestures were designed to "put London Met on the map", and to give an image of fearless modernity with, however, little of consequence to actually do," wrote Hatherley in BD.

Libeskind added that critics will become less relevant as we enter a new era of change where "everyone can compose Beethoven's Fifth".

"We don't live in the era of the old fashioned idea of masterpieces done by the masters," he said. "Everybody isn't powered to be creative and in a democratic society – it is freedom that creates the beauty, it's not authorities. I think that is the era of change."

Photograph is by Davide Pizzigoni.

Below is an edited transcript from our conversation with Libeskind at the opening of Where Architects Live:

Journalist: Why did you decide to show your house in this exhibition?

Daniel Libeskind: It's very simple, I decided to show my house because a house is not really private. I have no secrets, so all the secrets are shown and of course my house is not just about just furniture and light.

You know the house is the most important space because that's where people live. That's where they go to sleep, that's where they meet, that's where they have their intimate moments. So there can be nothing more important than the domestic environment. The domestic environment is no longer seen as some mechanical functionalistic machine to live in, in my view, and it is something that has to do with the global memory with where we are, where we are coming from and where we are going.

Journalist: How is this changing?

Daniel Libeskind: First of all, the house changes with every look of a person, with every glance, with every shift of the eye, with every face, with every piece of light that comes through the house. The house doesn't just change, the house is actually heavy. It's difficult to change the physical but today with objects, with furniture, with interiors, with internet, with the world-wide-web, we can live actually elsewhere to where we are. We can be in New York and be living in Tokyo, we can be in Africa and live in Milano. So we are interconnected and this is the connection which created completely a new social idea of the what the world is, what the genius loci is and where we are located.

Marcus Fairs: Daniel, your work sometimes gets a lot of criticism. Do you pay any attention to the critics?

Daniel Libeskind: You know, if you read the New Testament, look at 6:26. "Woe be to the man who is liked by everyone". So if you read the New Testament, there is a warning, don't try to be liked by everyone and do what you believe in. And of course, when things are first shown they are difficult. You know, if you read the review of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, it was a failure, they thought it a horrible piece of music. You have to give it time. Architecture is not just for the moment, it is not just for the next fashion magazine. It's for the next twenty, thirty, fifty, one hundred, two hundred years if it's good; that's sustainability. Sustainability is not just clever technologies. Having a house becomes part of something important.

Marcus Fairs: So do you compare your work to Beethoven's Fifth then if people don't understand how your buildings might be perceived in the future?

Daniel Libeskind: Hey, you know something? Today everyone can compose Beethoven's Fifth. We don't live in the era of the old fashioned idea of masterpieces done by the masters, everybody isn't powered to be creative and in a democratic society, it is freedom that creates the beauty, it's not authorities. I think that is the era of change. Everybody has the impetus to be an artist, to create their own house environment. To do something which is beautiful that is desirable by them and not just put to them through the market, through the power of systems, through ideology. I think we're in a great Renaissance era of rediscovery and that human beings are at the centre, not technology.

Marcus Fairs: So you're not bothered by your critics then?

Daniel Libeskind: Look I never read them. It's a democratic world, people can say whatever they want.

Marcus Fairs: You never read them, did you say?

Daniel Libeskind: How can I read them? I have more important things to read.

  • teureskind

    Meanwhile the cost for his building for Leuphana University had to be raised (again). To a level were officials even consider stopping the project:


  • mitate

    And he was showing such promise in 2001. By his response you can tell that criticism gets to him. Like most of us, he just wants to be loved.

  • carlos ortega

    “How can I read them? I have more important things to read.” Things like music reviews from the seventeenth century.

  • carlos ortega


  • Handel

    Re: Libeskind added that critics will become less relevant as we enter a new era of change where “everyone can compose Beethoven’s Fifth”.

    What Libeskind is advocating is no less than the complete eradication of critical standards, a world where the mindless beating of a stick against a lamp post might be judged to be as good as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

    He’s promoting a situation where the talentless will be accorded the same acclaim as the person who struggles rigorously to refine their craft. It’s no surprise that Libeskind desires a future in which the untalented will also get publicity and fame.

  • Godzilla


  • Aurelius

    Libeskind doesn’t design for the critics. OK, but the real problem is that he doesn’t design for the end user or the public at large either. His whole practice is based on the unthinking but self-indulgent imposition of wedges, crystals and other nonsensical forms on everything from museums to door handles. It’s not about project-specific design.

  • Hammer

    Re: ” … architect Daniel Libeskind has hit back at his critics, comparing his own work to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and saying that he doesn’t try to be liked.”

    Well he’s certainly been VERY successful at not being liked!

  • Colonel Pancake

    No, he’s not. He’s saying the creative process is moving horizontally, so that talent can emerge independently through society with democratic tools, rather than through an institutional arbiter of taste, such as design schools, guilds, corporate structures, etc.

    • F&S

      But Libeskind himself has benefitted mainly from the “institutional arbiters of taste” (e.g. museum boards, the design press, the AIA, RIBA, etc.), you refer to. The democratic or “horizontal” public forum loath him and the work he creates. He stands zero chance of success in the situation you believe he is advocating.

  • Glad I left architecture.

    Ego gone wild. Daniel Libeskind is not Beethoven. The architecture critics created this clown. Don’t bother coming up with something that meets a budget or is something that benefits the public or city. Just make it look weird and cool on the computer.

    How many billions of taxpayer money has this clown wasted on crystalline sh*t? And the AIA and RIBA keep giving him awards. He and the other starchitects turned the entire architecture profession into a joke.

    Thank you Paul Goldberger and the politicians for encouraging this clown.

  • Lucius K

    Well, that’s good news for Libeskind. It will be much less embarrassing for him, if his project is stopped than if it ever gets built.

  • Cassandre

    I don’t think any of us will ever see a future where “everyone can compose Beethoven’s Fifth”. But I do see a future where lots of people will design aesthetically pleasing, responsible and contextual buildings much better than Daniel Libeskind has done to date. He can only blame himself for reducing a potentially promising career to a series of cut-and-paste, one-liner projects that were never substantively complex or engaging. He needs to learn that there’s more to architecture than merely drawing trapezoids and wearing black clothes.

  • Francino

    You cannot ignore critics completely. If one has a functioning brain and a real passion for the craft, one will have the ability to sieve out constructive criticism.

  • Francino

    You can really tell this self-absorbed starchitect is scraping the barrel when he cannot get the facts straight. The Beethoven Fifth earned little critical response during its premiere because it was not performed well by the orchestra, not because of the work itself. And in a year and a half later, the rave reviews came. That is hardly what’s happening with Libeskind today.

  • F&S

    For too long, Daniel Libeskind has benefitted from a wide-eyed and gullible (if ignorant) press that has given him a free ride, publicity-wise. So it is refreshing to see the more thoughtful Marcus Fairs asking the penetrating questions that have been in the public’s mind for the past decade when Libeskind was so undeservedly praised. Libeskind, conditioned by a fawning media, seems SHOCKED that anyone would dare to question his genius.

    Bravo, Marcus Fairs! We need more honest journalists like you!

  • T.B.Walker

    Claiming that the unpopularity of his work is a sign of its greatness is a feeble defense. And it is typically arrogant of Libeskind to suggest that the public’s opinion has no value. Are architects and critics wrong to like Carlo Scarpa? Or Renzo Piano? Or Antoni Gaudi?

    Instead of blaming the critics or the public, Libeskind should look closely at the undeniable weakness of his own portfolio and also question the competency of the staff of drones he trained to unthinkingly churn out these banal and charmless formalist gimmicks.

  • Jorge Balmer

    I have no doubt Libeskind read and re-read all the critics reviews when they were gushing over his every word a decade or so ago. Now that his career trajectory is in steep nosedive and he becomes increasingly irrelevant, I can understand he might be too embarrassed to read these critics today, but that’s a different thing from being too busy to read them as he claims.

  • Ondrej Cisler

    This is a logic failure: DL forgets, that if someone is genius of Beethoven’s measure, he may make music that appears weird to his contemporaries. But if anybody makes architecture that appears weird, it doesn’t mean that he is a genius automatically. This is called the reversion of implication and is one of the most-used logical mistakes. Good luck with further self-evaluation, Daniel!

  • Anne Droid

    Daniel Libeskind: “How can I read them (the critics)? I have more important things to read.”

    I humbly suggest that he reads a few basic books on architecture, design and urbanism, especially the chapters on creating and respecting the prevailing sense of place. They don’t recommend ramming triangular metal shards through beautiful traditional buildings.

  • Trudeau

    Libeskind’s whole approach to architecture could be simplified as:
    1. Draw a wedge or a series of wedges, angles, distorted forms, etc.
    2. Create the pretentious post-facto ‘archispeak’ that appeals to critics.
    3. Rehash and repeat the formula for the next project.

    If there was any dialogue, it was between Daniel and his drawings only. Judging by the public’s rejection of his work, it is reasonable to conclude that he and his work does not communicate any positive message to anyone else. I find it insulting that he implies the my failure to like his work is my fault because I might not be sufficiently advanced to understand what he is doing.

  • mimi

    I’m wondering how many of you guys have done the amount of (important) buildings he has. Being curious, posting an open question only.

    • Seamus Curtin

      Mimi, Daniel Libeskind has had important opportunities but he squandered them by producing mediocre or ridiculous buildings.

    • Whopee

      Flawed logic.

    • TB Prescott

      Mimi, I think Libeskind has gotten a lot of press for doing shocking buildings, but I really don’t think he has done any important architectural work whatsoever. His self indulgent approach to design has negated every humanist lesson established during the Renaissance and set the course of architecture back five hundred or more years. Why do you think he is “important”?

  • VoireDire

    Libeskind’s “look at me” architecture derives its shock effect from being different to everything around it. Although he talks about local culture and place, his work is the total repudiation of those concepts.