February 16, 2006
Daniel Libeskind has never built a skyscraper.
His most famous high rise is one that will never be built:
the original concept for the Freedom Tower in Lower Manhattan.
That crystalline, tapering structure has now become an obelisk
on a concrete base designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.
But dont feel too badly for him.
Thanks partly to fame developed from the World Trade Center
competition, and partly to Studio Libeskinds impressive
list of contacts, developers all over the world have asked
Libeskind to design high-rise condominiums. The firm has secured
commissions for over 10 skyscraper projects in the last two
years or so. These include towers in Singapore, Sacramento,
Milan, Toronto, Warsaw, as well as Covington, Kentucky and
Brescia, Italy, and three more undisclosed locations in the
U.S., Korea, and Europe. The firm is so much in demand that
its employees now number 55up from 26 when it moved
to New York in 2003.
While very diverse in form, most of the
high-rises display some degree of the original Freedom Towers
sleek, tapering form and angular geometry. Many are formally
and programmatically advanced, like the 31-story Green
Emerald Tower in Milan, which sits on the citys
new 64-acre fashion and business district. Its form, cut from
a sphere, curves as it rises like an elongated band shell
to help limit harsh sunlight, and, of course, to make a dramatic
statement next to towers by Arata Isozaki and Zaha Hadid.
The Emerald Bay towers in Singapore (the tallest is 43 stories),
employ similar curves, in this case to maximize views of the
nearby waterfront, and utilize gardens in the sky,
vegetation-filled bridges connecting buildings at upper floors.
An angular tower in Warsaw, Libeskinds hometown, appears
almost as if it is two towers intersecting at sharp angles.
Other projects, like those in Sacramento and Covington, have
been criticized for their fairly conventional shapes, tapering
near the top like Libeskinds vision at Ground Zero,
and embellished largely by balconies that form exterior designs.
Libeskinds success in this field
is not just a result of fame or ability: its also a
product of developers increasing desire to use design
architects to woo tenants and investors. Hes also willing
to work on a building type that some in the top echelons of
the field look down on as a sell-out. The architect notes
that such projects are often vital to jumpstarting neighborhoods,
and even cities fortunes, and they have a much greater
impact than the smaller niche projects that many of his contemporaries
explore. Associate Yama Karim admits that many of these projects
stray from the exploding shards and folding planes that the
firm is known for at lower elevations. But he doesnt
see any of them as compromises. We dont compromise.
Its about making things that work. We work hard to make
the economic realities of these types of projects work, but
we want to avoid building typical developer buildings.
As for whether hes cut out do design
high rises, Libeskind responds Architecture is architecture.
If youve mastered building on a smaller scale, then
you can build something bigger, says Libeskind,
In addition to skyscrapers, Libeskind
will have several handfuls of projects completed by 2008,
including a German military museum in Dresden, which is ironic,
he admits, since he also built the Jewish Museum in Berlin.
Other works include The New Center for Arts and Culture in
Boston, and The Denver Art Museum and accompanying condominium
development in Denver, a retail complex and hotel in Las Vegas.
And how does he feel about the situation at Ground Zero, the
project that helped make him, but also came close to breaking
Im the only one whos
not disillusioned, he says. The process is inherently
difficult, and I knew that. But the core of the project is