Daniel Libeskind, Ground Zero Master Planner

b. 1946

Architect Daniel Libeskind in 2004, short grey hair, black-rimmed glasses
Architect Daniel Libeskind in 2004. Photo by J. Quinton/WireImage Collection/WireImage/Getty Images

Architects design more than buildings. An architect's job is to design space, including the spaces around buildings and in cities. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many architects submitted plans for reconstruction on Ground Zero in New York City. After heated discussion, judges selected the proposal submitted by Daniel Libeskind's firm, Studio Libeskind.

Background:

Born: May 12, 1946 in Lód’z, Poland

Early Life:

Daniel Libeskind's parents survived the Holocaust and met while in exile. As a child growing up in Poland, Daniel became a gifted player of the accordion--an instrument his parents had chosen because it was small enough to fit in their apartment.

The family moved to Tel Aviv, Israel when Daniel was 11. He began playing piano and in 1959 won an America-Israel Cultural Foundation scholarship. The award made it possible for the family to move to the USA.

Living with his family in a small apartment in the Bronx borough of New York City, Daniel continued to study music. He didn't want to become a performer, however, so he enrolled in Bronx High School of Science. In 1965, Daniel Libeskind became a naturalized citizen of the USA and decided to study architecture in college.

Married: Nina Lewis, 1969

Education:

  • 1970: Architecture degree, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, NYC
  • 1972: Postgraduate degree, History and Theory of Architecture, Essex University, England

Professional:

  • 1970s: Various architectural firms, including Richard Meier, and various teaching appointments
  • 1978-1985: Head of School of Architecture, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
  • 1985: Founded Architecture Intermundium, Milan, Italy
  • 1989: Established Studio Daniel Libeskind, Berlin, Germany, with Nina Libeskind

Selected Buildings & Structures:

Winning the Competition: The NY World Trade Center:

Libeskind's original plan called for a 1,776-foot (541m) spindle-shaped "Freedom Tower" with 7.5 million square feet of office space and room for indoor gardens above the 70th floor. At the center of the World Trade Center complex, a 70-foot pit would expose the concrete foundation walls of the former Twin Tower buildings.

During the years that followed, Daniel Libeskind's plan underwent many changes. His dream of a Vertical World Gardens skyscraper became one of the buildings you won't see at Ground Zero.

Another architect, David Childs, became the lead designer for Freedom Tower, which was later renamed 1 World Trade Center. Daniel Libeskind became the Master Planner for the entire World Trade Center complex, coordinating the overall design and reconstruction. See pictures:

In 2012 the American Institute of Architects (AIA) honored Libeskind with a Gold Medallion for his contributions as an Architect of Healing.

In the Words of Daniel Libeskind:

"But to create a space that never existed is what interests me; to create something that has never been, a space that we have never entered except in our minds and our spirits. And I think that's really what architecture is based on. Architecture is not based on concrete and steel and the elements of the soil. It's based on wonder. And that wonder is really what has created the greatest cities, the greatest spaces that we have had. And I think that is indeed what architecture is. It is a story."—TED2009
"But when I stopped teaching I realized you have a captive audience in an institution. People are stuck listening to you. It is easy to stand up and talk to students at Harvard, but try doing it in the marketplace. If you only speak to people who understand you, you get nowhere, you learn nothing."—2003, The New Yorker
"There is no reason that architecture should shy away and present this illusory world of the simple. It is complex. Space is complex. Space is something that folds out of itself into completely new worlds. And as wondrous as it is, it cannot be reduced to a kind of simplification that we have often come to be admired."—TED2009

More About Daniel Libeskind:

  • Counterpoint: Daniel Libeskind in Conversation with Paul Goldberger, Monacelli Press, 2008
    Buy on Amazon
  • Breaking Ground: An Immigrant's Journey from Poland to Ground Zero by Daniel Libeskind
    Buy on Amazon

Sources: 17 words of architectural inspiration, TED Talk, February 2009; Daniel Libeskind: Architect at Ground Zero by Stanley Meisler, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2003; Urban Warriors by Paul Goldberger, The New Yorker,, September 15, 2003 [accessed August 22, 2015]