Ignore critics, Beethoven was "a failure" to them too, says Libeskind

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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.