Conflict Resolution: Daniel Libeskind Describes the Challenge of Designing a Building Intended as a Commemoration of War but Informed by Our Endless Struggle for Peace. (Architecture Week)
Libeskind, Daniel, New Statesman (1996)
Architecture is a communicative art. All too often, however, architecture is seen as mute. Buildings are understood as disposable consumer items whose sole fate is to disappear with their use. In our day, the only distinction people make between architecture and building is that buildings are utilitarian and architecture is a monument belonging in a cemetery. I am determined to get away from this oversimplified view of architecture's tradition; to overcome the dichotomy of extremes. The alternative between the so-called neutral boxes and the decadence of expensive facades is untenable. When I began to work on the competition for the Imperial War Museum North, I was deeply challenged by the notion of creating a place that was at once intimate and civic. A place in which the story of the significance, sacrifice, tragedy and destiny of conflict can come alive.
What could inform a museum of conflict and of war? Clearly, this is not a museum of peace, but a museum of the permanent struggle to attain it. As I thought about the content of the Imperial War Museum, my mind was occupied by a number of images: Churchill speaking of conflict as one of the dimensions of world stability; Goya's painting of Saturn eating his own children; allied forces defeating tyranny; my own memory of breaking the glass on Stalin's portrait when I was in the third grade during the Polish uprising of 1956; and the unimaginable hole where the World Trade Center used to stand.
Every person living today has been consciously or unconsciously affected by conflict. It is sobering to recall the incomprehensible amount of blood pouring through the victorious pages of the Iliad, along with Homer's premonition that, ultimately, fatality dooms winners. This dimension of war--ever present in conflict yet never wholly visible in space--should be made manifest in the experience of the museum.
In order to touch the emotions of the visitor, I designed a building that is emblematic of the earth shattered by conflict. As the visitor moves through this splintered globe with its fragmented curvatures, there is a feeling of vulnerability. Normally, there is a feeling of detachment from the exhibitions, but here there is a fusion of the instability of space with the permanent time of reflection. This was my aim: to create a continuity of experience across the discontinuity of interpretation. The space of the building produces an oscillation between the artifice of the exhibition and the materiality that it contains. Each visitor is sensitised by the topos, just as footsteps and the eye become guides treading through a history that dawns only in retrospect. The building physically articulates the ambiguous tensions of the attempt to construct and reconstruct an illusive world order.
My aim was to create a building that was not only intelligently programmed for the events which were to take place in it, but one that moved the soul of the visitor towards a sometimes unexpected realisation. …