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.