Daniel Libeskind - the world renowned architect-deconstructivist - visited Sofia to receive the Doctor Honoris Causa title from the New Bulgarian University. Libeskind will also head the jury of the international competition for the "St.Nedelya" square in Sofia. We happily managed to squeeze in his busy program and ask a few questions on future cities and architecture.
Daniel Libeskind, (c) dezeen.com
Mr. Libeskind, the topic of the international festival Sofia Architecture Week 2013 is Future city – what do you think about the future of the cities we create and live in today?
I think cities as very important – we know that most of the world is shifting towards cities, that in the future most of the people in the world will live in the city. So the most important thing is to make them livable, make them beautiful, make cities that really inspire people and give them opportunities to work, to play, to be able to enjoy themselves. This is a huge challenge because we have so many different cities in different parts of the world and each of them has its own unique history.
Are we moving forward to more unique or to more universal cities?
We live in a global world, where we are more and more connected but this also means that we need to protect the heritage of cities, we can’t just reduce them to some sort of international style again and destroy their history. We have to learn something from the 19th and 20th century which destroyed so much of the heritage and history of cities, where everything was just obliterated and sort of a new world was built. We have a different attitude today – we don’t need that sort of international style, but rather address unique issues in each place, using the genius loci of the place. In the same time of course we have the knowledge that we can share internationally today – technical knowledge and technology as a whole. We need a balance between using universal means to produce very unique solutions.
How do you achieve this in your work?
The instruments to achieve this are practically everything you can gather – that includes not only nature, building, space or materials, but also to get connected to the culture of the solution. Without having a cultural understanding of the place you could only achieve very nice facades and nice objects but something which is not very connected to the long and often invisible history of the place. So it is very important, I think, to awaken new possibilities but also to connect with traditions. This might be also achieved in some very radical ways, rather than mimicking something that has already been or by the nostalgia of the past but by procreativity.
Daniel Libeskind at New Bulgarian University, Sofia, (c) NBU
Zlota 44, Warsaw, (c) skyscrapercity.com
What do you think is the way to work with the past in post-socialistic countries like ours – Poland and Bulgaria, countries in which people tend to run away from their past?
Well, it is our past and if I think of Warsaw and the tower Zlota 44 which i designed for the center of the city – this is a building which brings life in the city. The tower is not just a hollow symbol of the Stalinism but it brings people to live in the center of the city so that they don’t need to use cars there, so the density of the city center is increasing in the center and so the people could actually enjoy the center rather than live outside. Thus Warsaw becomes a more sustainable city. I think it is also a new architecture – an architecture which affirms that each person is important, rather than the mass individual, the mass statistics of ideology.
Is this the main shift from the socialist ideology?
This is a shift definitely, because the social ideology believed in a sort of an abstracted human being, not in the real human beings. Whatever it is we have to go back to humanistic architecture, which is about people, about memory and about culture.
Do you thing that similarly to the inherited megalomaniac socialistic environment we will also regret having built those huge steel-glass megastructures?
We might if there is a number of architects and industries that don’t care and just produce large scale objects. We have to think of people and of a human scale. That’s very different from building just empty statements which have to do propaganda. So it is about people and how to develop a city with the people and for the people. That is why nothing is more important than a democratic sense of debate where everybody is involved and I think then we can create cities in which people feel they have a share.
18.36.54 House, Connecticut, (c) feelguide.com
Do you think that the democracy in the western part of the world produces less impressive and more modest architectural images than what’s going on now at the East?
I don’t think so, I thing democracy is no mediocrity. Involving people is not making mediocre architecture on the contrary – when you involve people you can create a very powerful architecture, an expression really of human desire. I think much of Ground Zero, which is a radical departure from the old New York’s real estate idea – just build buildings one next to the other without any care as they are private motivated. The public of New York was very involved – millions of people wanted to do something new, something else, something meaningful, not just more real estate devotement. Even though this is just a regular economic project – office building in a market place – I have introduced a lot of cultural activities, a lot of open space, public space, so that people have access and feel that this is really about New York and not just another private devotement.
Is this easier to achieve that working on small scale projects?
In architecture everything is important no matter how big it is – every building even the small house that I recently designed in Connecticut still has to have an approval still has to go through the neighbors’ opinion and so on. Every building which is visible somehow in the world is still part of the public space. Certainly, large scale projects involve much more politics and discussions by many more parties and institutions but that is no bad – on the contrary, that’s part of architecture. There is no architecture that you can put on a piece of paper and then it is built by itself, it has always been a process – that’s the challenge to create meaningful architecture and to get through so many complexities in order for it built. Whether it’s in the East, or in the West, whether it’s in Europe or in Asia, or in America it is really always a process.
You started your lecture at the New Bulgarian University by saying “Architecture is a language” - what does Sofia tell you?
Sofia speaks about an open horizon. It’s a city that has a wonderful sense, I like the people – they have light in their eyes. It is also a young society, a society which wants to accomplish things in a new way from the past. Despite there are many problems, I think it’s a time of change when people will come up with a new sense of urgency to address needs – better housing, better living, better schools, better hospitals, better live for families. I see a great potential for Sofia – it’s a beautiful city in a beautiful location with great history, I have no doubt it will soon be one of the best cities in Europe.
text: Boyka Ognyanova