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Architect Explains Buildings’ ‘Language’ to Pentagon Employees

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 25, 2014 – In the flyer advertising Daniel Libeskind’s appearance at the Pentagon, he is listed as, “Architect. Designer. Optimist.” It’s the last description that is probably most important.

Libeskind is a world-class architect and artist who designed the Jewish Museum in Berlin and is the master planner for New York’s Freedom Plaza. He spoke earlier this week at the Pentagon as part of the NewIdeas@OSD series sponsored by the Aspen Institute and the undersecretary of defense for policy.

Libeskind was born in Poland to Holocaust survivors in 1946. He emigrated to the United States when he was 14 and studied music and art before taking up architecture.

“Where does architecture communicate?” he asked the Pentagon audience. “It’s just like music. It’s very scientific, but in the end it has to reach your soul. It communicates to the heart.”

He called architecture “a very deep language” that people must understand. He pointed to his buildings in Berlin, Singapore and Manchester, England, as examples of the conversations he has through architecture.

In Berlin, he spoke of the power of a void in a building to communicate. In Manchester, he spoke of pieces coming together to form a whole, In Singapore, he spoke about creating something just slightly different that projects a world-class living standard and preserves the sense of place in the city state.

Libeskind is known for his architectural statements. He designed the extension to the Denver Museum of Art. The titanium-sheathed building mirrors to angles of the Rocky Mountains. He also designed nearby apartment buildings and said he was pleased that the first apartments that sold out faced the museum and not the mountains.

Changing perceptions is also part and parcel of architecture. He re-designed the German Military Museum in Dresden. The museum had many different names going back to the 19th century, he said. It was the Kaiser Museum, a Nazi Museum, a Soviet Museum and an East German Museum.

His problem was how to tell the history of the German military without glossing over terrible deeds that occurred during World War II.

He designed a light-filled arrow that splits the classical front of the museum in half. It represents transparency and a new Germany while still showing the history. It promises something new. “It works to alter perceptions of war,” he said.

Trying something different is important to Libeskind. He said that in chickens and humans, 95 percent of the DNA is the same.

“It’s that last five percent that makes the difference,” he said.

He told the Pentagon audience that they can do “95 percent of the same thing, but to change the last five percent and you will have something exceptional.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneAFPS)


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