Tuesday, September 16, 2003

New York, Daniel Libeskind, and the Berlin Jewish Museum

Brian Micklethwait points to this animation showing the details of Daniel Libeskind's design for the Word Trade Center site in New York. I have to say that at this point I am not blown away by the design.

I visited Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin last week, and I have mixed feelings about it. The spiritual showmanship was all on the lowest level, full of "This empty space represents this", and "this empty space represents that", with some very sparse related exhibits mixed in, mostly to do with the flight of Jews from Germany in the 1930s and the holocaust itself. (The "Wedge of light, where no shadow will fall on September 11 from 8:46am, when the first plane hit, to 10:28am, when the second tower fell", in the WTC plan, is the same sort of Libeskind touch).

This museum isn't meant to be principally a memorial to the holocaust. A separate (enormous) holocaust memorial and connected museum is being built elsewhere in Berlin, between the administrative area centred on the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate, and the commercial/retail area centred on Potsdammer Platz.

Two other levels of the museum were devoted to actual displays (ie the history of Judaism in Germany) but they had a cramped feel to them: too much in too little space. This led to the museum having an oddly fractured feel to it: it felt like two separate things. It would be possible to do a much better job of mixing the spiritual showmanship and the exhibits together, but I didn't feel the building succeeded in doing this.

The World Trade Center Plan has office space, a cultural centre (museums of some kind) and various pieces of memorial space - most notably a "memorial garden". I hope that everything manages to be integrated together. The memorial sections of the design must be used regularly by the people who work there, and the memorial garden therefore must be a park as much as a garden. If people don't eat lunch there, then it will ultimately become some kind of ghetto and it will not be part of the living city of New York. Remember, this has to work in 50 years as well as now. And while people will certainly remember September 11 in 50 years time, they will inevitably be less haunted by it than we are now. If the rebuilt World Trade Center ends up consisting of separate parts that don't really interact with one another, which I think is the problem with Libeskind's museum in Berlin, then in my mind the plan will be a failure.

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