Profile: Daniel Libeskind's towering plans

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  March 3, 2003 at 7:00 AM
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NEW YORK, March 3 (UPI) -- Daniel Libeskind, the Berlin-based architect chosen to redesign the devastated World Trade Center site, is a man who fought tooth and nail for his concept and won out over a hometown competitor.

The Daniel Libeskind Studio's plan for a complex of angular, glass-sheathed buildings punctuated by a spiraling tower topped with an antenna reaching a symbolic 1,776 feet in the sky was selected by city and state officials over Rafael Vinoly's two towers of lattice-work steel.

The plans were the finalists in a competition to replace the Twin Towers, leveled by the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

The tower -- designed by Libeskind with a restaurant and observation deck on the 110th floor -- would be the world's highest structure, and that is just the way he wants it. He said that New York Gov. George Pataki expressed his feelings exactly at the unveiling of the revised plan last Thursday when he said: "When it is finished, it will be a symbol that will reach into the sky to tell the terrorists they have failed."

"In designing the tower, I was inspired by the spiraling structure of the Statue of Liberty," Libeskind told United Press International.

"Getting my design approved was a democratic participatory process, very impressive for a civic process of any sort, and it involved the arts of negotiation and compromise and steering between various interests."

But the on-line magazine Slate accused Libeskind of strong-arming opponents to his plan. It described him as "an aggressive self-promoter who hawked himself and his scheme more flagrantly than any of World Trade Center design competitors."

The graying 56-year-old Libeskind, who habitually dresses in all black and wears glasses with heavy black frames, is not embarrassed to be known as a super salesman who battles for his projects and he is not above denigrating his rivals.

He publicly referred to Vinoly's towers as "two skeletons in the sky," although he claimed this was not derogatory but "a simple description of the structure."

He ran through two publicists in the course of his competition campaign, telling one of them he wanted air time with Larry King, Connie Chung, and on "60 Minutes" and then hiring another when he was told that was too big an order. He mounted an e-mail campaign urging supporters to vote for his plan on the CNN and New York One Web site polls and met with newspaper editorial boards and citizen groups.

Gradually, those who had expressed interest in the plan submitted by the Think group headed by Vinoly, who is based in New York, began to switch to Libeskind. They include Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, though some residents of the Ground Zero area and families of the Sept. 11 victims were never won over.

The first poll taken after the Libeskind plan was accepted showed a majority of New Yorkers opposed to another tall tower that might serve as a target for future terrorists.

Libeskind said he first saw the Statue of Liberty when he arrived in New York harbor with his parents aboard the S.S. Constitution when he was 13 and "never forgot that wonderful moment."

His parents, Polish Jews who had survived the Holocaust, settled in the Bronx where young Daniel was something of a prodigy at the Bronx High School of Science, going on to study architecture at the Cooper Union about the time he became a naturalized citizen. After graduation from Cooper Union, he taught at Yale, Harvard and several other universities.

The architect settled in Berlin with his wife and business manager, Nina, and their three children, in the course of design work there in preparation for the city to re-assume its role as the German capital.

His major Berlin project was the $40 million Jewish Museum, a Holocaust memorial that opened to the public in 2001. He recently designed the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, England, and is the lead architect in designing an addition to the Denver Art Museum, his first major American project.

Libeskind said he and his wife will move back to New York where his 13-year-old daughter is looking at schools.

His wife is a native of Canada, where her father served in Parliament and a brother is currently a special Canadian envoy to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Their other children are Lev, 25, and Noam, 23.

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