Genius of Anguish; Daniel Libeskind's Provocative New Building Is in Dramatic Conflict with Its Surroundings

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IT is not every day that a Daniel Libeskind building opens, nor even every year.

Indeed, until recently, anyone wishing to view the work of this maestro of anguish could only choose between the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which made him world famous, the Felix Nussbaum museum in Osnabruck, or temporary structures like the one built outside the Serpentine last year.

The Imperial War Museum North, in Trafford, Manchester, will be the world's third permanent Libeskind, the first outside Germany. It is also the most striking of a clutch of new buildings in a Barcelona moment that Manchester is now enjoying.

Just as the Catalan city marked its Olympics with museums and monuments, the Lancastrian one has erected a stadium for the Commonwealth Games, plus an art gallery extension, a museum of cities, and the Libeskind.

Which is why your correspondent finds himself some way past the end of the Northern Line, in the landscape of exhausted industry around the Manchester Ship Canal. Across the water is the curiously cheery cultural centre named after that cheerless artist LS Lowry, that Munch with his mouth shut, who couldn't be bothered to scream because he knew no one would hear. Old warehouses, muscular but useless as retired boxers, stand about. Pink paving bricks, the universal emblem of regeneration, abound.

Manchester United's stadium, as purposefully ugly as Ferguson's face, lords it over the area, secure in the knowledge that it's the only building that knows what it's doing.

The War Museum itself resembles out-of-town retail shed, the sort of place where Sunday DIY enthusiasts might buy their paint and decorative mouldings, but one that has undergone strange convulsions. The roof is a shallow, tilted mound with jagged edges, through which other odd shapes protrude. It represents, says Libeskind, the globe shattered by 20th-century warfare, which is the subject of the museum. Three "shards" are then put together to make the building - one for each of the three theatres of war - of earth, air and water.

Congratulations are due to all concerned for getting this thing up, without Lottery funding and for the modest sum of ?30 million, in less than it has taken the Victoria and Albert Museum not to build the Spiral, its ?80 million Libeskind-designed extension. Manchester Ship Canal 1, South Kensington 0.

But you also have to ask why provocative architects are dis-patched to such windy quaysides, when they have so much more to offer in the hearts of great cities.

The answer lies in the lack of guts of those who direct our cultural resources. …


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