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Standing tall 

Architect Daniel Libeskind and his grandest conception

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Daniel Libeskind, is a superstar of architecture, yet this 59-year-old did not actually have a building of his own design built until he was 52.

Now, he has three museums built and over 35 projects in various stages of design, including the master plan for Ground Zero in New York City, the Jewish Museum in Berlin, and the spectacular new addition to the Denver Art Museum. He will appear in Colorado Springs for a lecture on "Breaking Ground" on March 28 at Colorado College.

Most of us are familiar with the master plan for Ground Zero, incorporating the 1,776-foot-tall "Freedom Tower" in the place where the Twin Towers used to stand. What few of us may know is the story of the still-ongoing struggle to build it as originally designed -- a struggle that pitted Libeskind and his tiny firm against some of the most ruthless real estate magnates in New York City.

Libeskind, a Polish-born Jew, emigrated to Israel at the age of 11, arrived in New York at 13, grew up in the United States, and, restless and peripatetic, has moved 14 times in 35 years. As he has written in his 2004 memoir, also entitled Breaking Ground: "There are many worlds in my head, and I bring all of them to the projects I work on."

Libeskind is highly conceptual as an architect; rather than create highly detailed plans for proposed projects, he waits for inspiration, for a "perfect form" to emerge.

"Several years ago I entered a competition for an extension to the Royal Ontario Museum," he noted in his memoir. "I had one of those elusive intuitions ... I sketched a few lines and shapes on napkins at the restaurant ... These napkins ended up displayed on the walls during an exhibition of the finalists, next to fully rendered computer images submitted as 'studies' by my competitors."

Libeskind won the competition nonetheless, and "despite my sketches' apparent roughness ... the building under construction today bears a nearly exact resemblance to them."

So how did Libeskind arrive at the design of the Denver Art Museum addition, a design that, when completed, could potentially eclipse Denver International Airport and the Cadet Chapel at the Air Force Academy?

"[It] came to me as I flew over the city, and could take in its full symphonic presence from above," he said in his book. "I copied, in a fashion, the shapes I saw out my airplane window: the craggy cliffs of the Rockies, descending into breathtakingly dramatic valleys and plateaus. I sketched them on the back of my boarding pass, and when that was filled, on the back of the in-flight magazine."

As a child, Libeskind never expected to be an architect; he was a musician, and a brilliant one -- a child prodigy who played alongside a young Yitzhak Perlman in a Tel Aviv recital. His instrument: the accordion. He was so good, in fact, that he won a scholarship to study in America in a competition judged by Isaac Stern, who urged him to take up the piano. Too late, noted Libeskind, "my hands were used to playing vertically."

-- John Hazlehurst

capsule

Breaking Ground

A talk by Daniel Libeskind

Monday, March 28, 7:30 p.m.

Armstrong Hall, Colorado College campus

Call 389-6606 for more info.

  • Architect Daniel Libeskind and his grandest conception

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