Architecture and Revolution: Contemporary Perspectives on Central and Eastern Europe

By Neil Leach | Go to book overview

10

Resisting the erasure of history

Daniel Libeskind interviewed by Anne Wagner

WAGNER: In your piece 'Traces of the Unborn', you call for, 'the need in every society to identify icons which constitute a particular area, the structures which form the texture of living memory'. Do you recognise there to be a problem in architecture having some fixed political and symbolic meaning when, as Fredric Jameson comments, meaning is grafted onto architecture by a process of association, thereby being extremely arbitrary and constantly shifting?

LIBESKIND: I think that Fredric Jameson's analysis of architecture is based on linguistics and on the idea that language is a predominant prison-house of the mind. I think architecture plays a completely different role. The icons of architecture are not connected to language in any causal or linear way Therefore I would say that the notion of an icon in architecture should not be confused with the notion of an icon in literature or as a figurative linguistic trope. Therefore icons in architecture have a very different function from the shifting function of words in language or numbers in a mathematical system.

WAGNER: So would you say that symbolism in a building is more permanent?

LIBESKIND: I would not say symbolism, but just the nature of space, the nature of the fact that you have material in a place, to which you can point, that is here. This 'here' to which you can point with your finger is not some abstract 'here', it is not interchangeable with any other 'here'. It is kind of absolute vis-à-vis the relativistic ideas which language might develop, about a 'here'. When you point to somewhere, like the window, the place, the door, the passage, you are in a place. That is why one should really think about the word 'icon'. It is not something very obvious, what it would be in architecture. But certainly I mean it in a spatial sense, not in some sort of abstract sense of a concept.

WAGNER: So thinking about the GDR housing at the Alexander Platz, would you identify this as an icon?

LIBESKIND: Sure, because the spatial organisation of the city into large slivers of linear cuts constituted by the walls of the blocks, is a lived experience. It is not an abstraction, it is not something that you can change by renaming it for example, give it another name. Say it is not the GDR. It does not matter

-130-

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