Daniel Libeskind 07.05.15

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Studio Libeskind Vanke expo

As our current issue, Poland, went to press, we met the Polish-born architect in his Milan studio to ask him about the nation's design tradition and the thinking behind his work

Icon's latest issue presents a selection of our favourite architecture and design from Poland, so when we met the Polish-born architect Daniel Libeskind in his Milan office last month during Salone, we took the opportunity to ask him about the country's cultural landscape.

"When I grew up in Poland, it was still under communist rule, under a very conformist, totalitarian system – it was an oppressed people," he said. "Today, Poland is a free country and you can really see what that means when you visit – it's key for the country's design, not just some political idea. Poland doesn't take freedom and liberty for granted – it's very aware of its history. It's a country that has always had to reinvent itself in the face of many, not always positive, events around it. And I think that's the greatness of Poland, as well as the challenge of working there."

Libeskind's most recent project in Poland is the Zlota Tower in Warsaw. The curved form of the 54-storey building sits directly opposite the massive neoclassical pomp of the Soviet-era Palace of Culture and Science – a location that neatly illustrates Libeskind's point regarding the immediacy of the past in Polish life.

gemma moroso

Gemma chair for Moroso, launched at Salone del Mobile

When we met in Milan, his Vanke pavilion for the city's Expo was nearing completion. Designed for China's largest property developer, this spiralling, reptilian structure was inspired by the form of a dragon, with 4,000 metallic tiles on its surface that resemble scales. Libeskind's practice is diverse and prolific – at the Salone, he was also in the midst of launching a new line of paints for Oikos, which range from deep metal hues to shades inspired by glass and light, as well as presenting an asymmetrical chair for Moroso.

He sees all his work, at each of these different scales, as part of a continuum. "It's all architecture. The house doesn't end with walls and windows, it keeps going into the interior; architecture has a big impact even in small objects. A chair, for example, is also about geometry, fractals and space; neither a building nor a chair is just for looking at – you have to be able to use them.

"And you can't design a chair without context. Just like a building, only if you have a sense of where it is, in time and space, can it be continue to be interesting for many years afterwards."


Zlota Tower in Warsaw

From the Ground Zero masterplan to the Jewish Museum in Berlin, Libeskind often designs building with strong political resonance, and in recent years has been outspoken on a range of issues, including the rights of migrant workers in the Gulf. He feels that such concerns are becoming increasingly rare in the profession: "There has been a general decline of architecture participating in public life. It has become more about just aesthetics rather than part of a larger discourse of what makes a good city and good citizens. The world needs constructive ideas to bring people together, across religions, ethnicities and political barriers. What makes architecture such a universal art is that it communicates with people directly."

But how does one change this? "For one thing, we have to develop technology that truly communicates, instead of confirming one's own prejudices – the way we use apps and the internet, for instance, often reinforces your preferences, without showing you how others live. When you stare at a screen, you think that the whole world is in the screen – but it isn't.

"You should also speak on the profession's behalf through the kind of spaces you create. You have to communicate that architecture is not just about formalism, or some typology, or some abstract concept in academic discourse, but about social ideas, history, memory."

Read more about Icon's Poland issue, which is available now



Debika Ray

quotes story

There has been a general decline of architecture participating in public life. It has become more about just aesthetics rather than part of a larger discourse of what makes a good city and good citizens

Libeskind Oikos Future Flowers 1

Libeskind's Future Flowers installation for Oikos, during Milan Design Week

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