Belgrade is my favourite project

Belgrade 03. 03. 2009 Politika Politika

Belgrade is my favourite project

The Danube waterfront inspired world-famous architect to transform the part of Dorćol from marina to Ada Huja and to breathe new life into it. An authentic skyscraper as a symbol of the Sava's flow into the Danube is just a recognizable detail of the author's style.

His buildings are distinguished by their extraordinary form and specific proportion and geometry. An inevitable part of his architecture is the social aspect and focus on emotion. Therefore Daniel Libeskind, a Polish Jew, leaves no one indifferent. For some, his inclination towards experiment and strong emotions is his advantage, while others see it as a purely individual marketing skillfulness.

However, he says that he isn't a jet-set architect and that he didn't enter this career after his music and math studies to make money. He sees architecture as a connection between music, science and art. It has to be modern but not fleeting as fashion. He gained world fame with a provocative project of the Jewish Museum in Berlin and he attracted the greatest attention when he won the competition to build a memorial complex at the site of the demolished World Trade Center in New York. Although criticized, he remained true to himself in this project, introducing symbolism that is characteristic of all his works. Without any doubts, he accepted the invitation of Luka Beograd to take part in the transformation of the Danube waterfront.

"This project is not only important for the local community. It is an example how to connect the city with the Danube, its lifeline, and at the same time to create a sustainable city for the 21st century. That city won't be made of steel and glass but it will also offer a new quality of life", explains Libeskind.

Your architectural style is characterized by unconventional form; would you refrain from it at the waterfront and introduce a new urban matrix?

Planning is not just pure statistics but it is also creative. We will link it to the past and the future. Otherwise, tradition expires if there is no innovation and research. I think that all the beauty of architecture lies in the balance between the old and the new.

Does it mean that you will reconstruct the existing factories and change their purpose or will you perhaps demolish them and start from scratch?

We won't start from the wasteland. The waterfront is fascinating because it has rich industrial heritage. We will certainly use some of that space for new cultural facilities.

Belgrade is probably the only city in which it is desirable to live far from the riverbanks. How will you attract the residents to spend more time on the river?

First of all, we will build a park. Green areas are trademark of the Master plan of the waterfront. We can build several unique neighbourhoods between the park and the river with new residential buildings, and the space for entertainment, sports and a promenade. We have a chance, as Obama says, to accomplish what we have dreamed of for decades.

Do you plan to construct a prominent avant-garde building, true to your style?

I envisaged in the extension of Francuska street a spectacular and unique skyscraper as a symbol of the Sava's flow into the Danube.

How will you defend the idea before Serbian experts because there will probably be those who will say:" Yes, it's beautiful, but it's not in the spirit of Belgrade architecture?"

It's a constant debate. Even the Eiffel tower wasn't accepted in the beginning but in time it became the symbol of Paris. It's less important who is working but what is being built. I am not an architect who thinks that everyone should bow down in front of his projects and accept them. Like all art, architecture should inspire and not leave the impression of just another bland building in a row.

Do you intend to shock them?

It's not about that. With every second a new world is born - fantastic and interesting. Why would we put our heads in the sand?

Is your faith in Luka Beograd shaken due to world economic crisis?

No, not at all. You must keep faith and spirit regardless of money. In spite of crisis, this is an opportunity. Remember that both the Empire State building and the Rockefeller Center were built in the middle of the Great Depression. Every cloud has a silver lining.

The intriguing Jewish Museum in Berlin, according to some, provokes the suffering and opens up old wounds. Did you intentionally choose the non-reconciliatory style as some would say?

There is no reconciliation with that event. The museum is one of the most popular ones in Germany and most importantly, a lot of young people come to visit it. It is a place where they can reflect and understand that there is connection between the past and the future. I think that I have built a museum of hope.

You said that the World Trade Center, which is also symbolic, is your most complex project so far. Why?

It is not easy to build on a small place on Manhattan. Apart from constructing big buildings and millions of square meters of office space, it is essential to create a meaningful place, a memorial center, in the atmosphere of complex New York politics, responsibility to the victims' families and the pressure from different investors. It is a great challenge.

Does it mean that it is the most intriguing and best project for you?

No. The Belgrade project is dearer to me because I will be able to build on the Danube. When I recall my childhood in Holland, former Yugoslavia was like a model of what Poland could have been if it had been lucky. Unfortunately, we were closer to the USSR so we looked on Yugoslavia as a hope. That Eastern European connection still has a positive impact on me.

Belgrade is currently thinking of building a memorial center at the Old Fair ground. Since you have already tackled the same ground in Copenhagen and LA, do you think you would be suitable for that project?

I am completely immersed in the Luka Beograd project. I wouldn't accept additional engagements but it doesn't mean it is not interesting.

The press describes you as the Woody Allen of architecture because of your physical resemblance and the passion with which you speak about your works. Are they right?

I don't mind. We both live in New York and perhaps we have similar noses.

How would you recommend a tourist to spend an afternoon in New York?

Its uniqueness is reflected in the people. It is important to feel that. What people do, how they think, what they dream, what their ambitions are - that's what makes big cities. Of course my advice is to visit the Empire State Building, Central park, Soho...