Arts & Design

Daniel Libeskind has a vision for cities of the future (and it's beautiful)

The story of the city will be about dignity, greenery and creativity.

By Garage Staff — December 1, 2017

Libeskind in his studio in New York City, one block away from Ground Zero — and the project that catapulted him into the public spotlight.

Courtesy of Studio Libeskind

Libeskind in his studio in New York City, one block away from Ground Zero — and the project that catapulted him into the public spotlight.

Architecture is storytelling, says Daniel Libeskind, the acclaimed architect whose steel, glass and concrete compositions grace cities around the world and was responsible for the Master Plan of New York City’s Ground Zero.

“There’s a true rebirth of urban living globally,” says Libeskind. “The attraction of the city is more than just the economy. It’s the creative attraction that brings people together with a completely new sense of who they can be. That’s breathtaking.”

And yet the global shift to cities has also unleashed huge challenges. By 2050, an additional 2.5 billion people will swell the ranks of urban communities, with 90 percent of that surge concentrated in Asia and Africa, according to the United Nations.

That’s why telling the right stories through architecture is more urgent than ever.

As people flock to cities, Libeskind explains, architecture needs to link us to the “less visible history, the less audible history” of these areas. New buildings springing up must remain true to the spirit that is attracting us to these cities. And architecture must do this while providing green, social, democratic and creative urban spaces that can comfortably pack in ever more people.  

“Cities should be full of vibration, full of sound, full of music,” Libeskind declared in a widely seen 2009 TED Talk. “And that, indeed, is the architectural mission that I believe is important — to create spaces that are vibrant, that are pluralistic, that can transform the most prosaic activities and raise them to a completely different expectation.”

After the World Trade Center was destroyed in the 9/11 terrorist attack that killed 3,000 people, plans to rebuild began almost immediately. But none of the stakeholders — politicians, developers, the victims’ families — could reach consensus on a design that would respect what happened at the site while also conveying forward-looking strength and optimism.

Libeskind famously found harmony in the chaos. His winning master plan included room for both new businesses and reminders of the day’s devastating losses while creating a grand public plaza that had never existed before in Lower Manhattan. His vision for the 16-acre site — including fountains, an exposed slurry wall and a hallmark building rising a symbolic 1,776 feet — was to create a natural space that would draw people to the neighborhood to reinforce the city’s forge-ahead spirit. 

Courtesy of Studio Libeskind

Libeskind's Master Plan for Ground Zero devotes half of the 16-acre site to public space, reconnecting the historic street grid and reinvigorating the neighborhood.

The site, which is visible from the Libeskind team’s design studio just one block away, is now nearly complete. Despite the project’s conflicts and inevitable revisions, Libeskind argues that the final design remains close to his original plans for Ground Zero.  

Libeskind’s architectural stories are becoming reality around the globe, from residences and shopping centers to urban redevelopment projects that include affordable housing.

“It is an incredible challenge to provide dignity in affordable housing,” Libeskind says. “How do you create housing that is not just in the luxury market, but for regular people, in huge cities that have their own challenges in terms of transportation, environment and so on? Whether it’s New York or China or Africa,” he continues, “[the puzzle] is how to build something so people can have a beautiful place to live. Maybe it's very small, but it also needs to be connected with nature.”

For the Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics at Durham University, which opened in 2017, Studio Libeskind created a building that supports professors and students seeking to understand the nature of the universe — while incorporating strict budgetary and sustainability requirements. Offices ring the spiral-shaped building, providing each one with natural light through the windows as well as needed collaborative space in the central sections.

And thanks to technology, Studio Libeskind was able to realize the architect’s vision faster than ever before. Powerful computers and design software enabled the team to test concepts and variations without having to keep redrafting plans by hand. “With our technology today, we can experiment — that's one of [its] great feats,” Libeskind says. “It allows us to see multiple views of an idea. That's kind of miraculous.”

Rooms can be reshaped, windows can be moved and moved again, spaces can be individualized and living areas maximized — and all aspects can be tested virtually.

“Cities should be full of vibration, full of sound, full of music.”

Daniel Libeskind in his 2009 TED Talk

Technology helped Studio Libeskind balance strict building codes and a desire to create individually designed spaces in the Sapphire apartment building in Berlin.

Courtesy of Studio Libeskind

Technology helped Studio Libeskind balance strict building codes and a desire to create individually designed spaces in the Sapphire apartment building in Berlin.

For the Sapphire residential building in Berlin, technology helped Libeskind tackle a familiar problem: how to create a landmark building within strict building codes on a historic block while creating individually designed apartments.

Libeskind’s own story began in Poland in 1947. A child of Holocaust survivors, he witnessed the physical and ideological rebuilding of Europe after World War II from the industrial city of Lodz. As a child, his talents were of the musical variety, culminating in sharing the stage with violinist Itzhak Perlman and receiving a cultural scholarship American-Israel Cultural Foundation.

After first relocating to Israel from Poland, the Libeskinds then immigrated to the U.S. on one of the last boats to pass through Ellis Island. As a university student and then in various architectural offices, Libeskind’s interest in architecture grew. Still, for over a decade he was a professor and theorist — he didn’t win his first competition to build until the late 1980s.

“I found that architecture contained all the things I love to do. [It allowed me to] draw. It contains music. It contains history. It contains forms, colors, sounds,” Libeskind says.

Those passions informed his first building, Berlin’s Jewish Museum, a zigzag shaped building intersected by a void. And those passions continue to inspire him today as he works on projects that are reshaping cities around the world. In Toulouse, France, his Occitanie Tower skyscraper makes green space integral to the 40-story building, thereby bringing together both the pastoral and urban elements of the city’s history and future.  

That holistic appreciation for all of the yearnings of man has given Daniel Libeskind an endless number of stories to tell — and an international audience that is endlessly eager to hear them.


Learn more about Studio Libeskind and the HP technology that powers his creativity.