Breaking Ground by Daniel Libeskind: A Book Review
As we near the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, we look back and remember where we were when the towers fell. We remember this because of the powerful and shocking emotions forced upon Americans on that particularly infamous day. As the towers fell, the American character was shaken to the core: These were American lives. These were American landmarks. These structures stood for the city that illustrates our spirit and our country. Our society is defined by what we build and the skyline of New York City embodies this idea. Breaking Ground details Daniel Libeskind’s design for Ground Zero, a plan that attempts to translate the sentiment of the events and aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks into an inhabitable monument that will symbolize the grief, sorrow, and unity of the American people.
Libeskind established himself as an evocative designer well before he was commissioned to design Ground Zero. Coincidentally, on September 9th, 2001 Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin opened to the public. The museum, discussed in detail within the book, can be considered a modern definition for experiential architecture. While Peter Zumthor can make a thermal bath a heavenly experience, I can’t help but be in awe of an architect who takes on the most complex and controversial challenges of our generation as Libeskind has. In Breaking Ground Libeskind modestly explains how he has succeeded in doing so.
His concepts are at times somewhat abstract (for instance, Freedom Tower will stand at 1,776 feet), however, his overall vision is clear and with purpose. Upon seeing this patriotic clarity, the public pushed his design to the forefront. The most gripping parts of the book detail the grueling obstacles Libeskind faced while fighting for his design to be built. Most notably, Libeskind recalls SOM acting as the corporate spoiled child (no surprise there) to a wealthy mother Silverstein, a billionaire real estate developer akin to any of the Real Housewives of New York.
It was also fascinating to read the designer’s interactions with and opinions of other notable architects including Norman Foster, the THINK Team, and those who lovingly refer to themselves as the “Dream Team”–Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey and Steven Holl. Libeskind’s detailed accounts of the world’s most renowned designers in their undertaking of the Ground Zero design process made for an interesting read.
Despite the fact that the financial crisis has forced the project to be scaled down, and we might not ever see the full fruits of Libeskind’s labor beyond his renderings, this book reveals the work of an architect as he tackles the daunting challenge of breaking ground on undoubtedly the most hallowed piece of American soil.