In Seoul, the vision of a famed architect

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In Seoul, the vision of a famed architect

Daniel Libeskind has been involved in numerous architectural projects worldwide, although the Jewish Museum in Berlin is the one that brought him international fame.
Further enhancing his prominence, in 2003 his studio won a competition to design the project for Ground Zero, the site of the former World Trade Center in New York City, as part of the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Other projects he has led include the Felix Nussbaum Haus in Osnabrueck, Germany; the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, England; the Danish Jewish Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark; the Extension to the Denver Art Museum in Colorado; and the largest shopping center in Europe, in Bern, Switzerland.
Now, the architect has brought one of his designs to Korea as well.
Mr. Libeskind recently visited the country to commemorate the opening of an office building in southern Seoul for which he designed the facade. On the outside of Hyundai Development Corp.’s 15-story headquarters building, which opened Friday, is a gigantic, circular steel frame that measures 62 meters (203 feet) in diameter.
Inside the circle are red, rectangular-shaped frames, with dozens of red pipes forming rows of diagonal stripes. An aluminum bar passes through the building, piercing the sky. Mr. Libeskind also designed the rooftop, and some adjustments were made in the building’s internal spaces to accommodate the additional structure.
For Mr. Libeskind, architecture represents more than a piece of concrete or a product of technology ― it communicates with people and tells a story.
“Whether it is a museum or a modest building, all architecture contributes to a sense of life,” the architect said at a press briefing. “It is about telling a story. If it is great architecture, it tells a much deeper story.”
Asked what the steel structure is intended to reveal, Mr. Libeskind said, “It tells a story about the city. It is the focal point of a three-dimensional stage where people looking from the outside and people looking from the inside can have different experiences.”
Born in Lodz, Poland in 1946, Mr. Libeskind became an American citizen in 1965. He was a child prodigy on the accordion, but later took the advice of violinist Isaac Stern and became a pianist.
He became a virtuoso, but he left music to pursue what he said was a more abstract, intellectual way of expressing himself: architecture. Mr. Stern later said that Mr. Libeskind was the only one among the people he has taught who did not continue in the field.
Mr. Libeskind received a degree in architecture from Cooper Union in New York City in 1970, and a degree in the history and theory of architecture from the School of Comparative Studies at Essex University in England in 1972.
The turning point in his life came in 1989, when he won the competition for the Jewish Museum in Berlin, prior to the unification of West and East Germany, which he said ended what he called “a quiet and more meditative life” as a classical musician.
The Jewish Museum was his first architectural project, he said, adding, “My wife calls me a ‘late bloomer.’”
When the museum opened to the public in 2001, the response was overwhelming. Even before the official opening, when the exhibits still had not been installed, nearly half a million people visited the museum, and more than 200,000 visitors attended in the first eight weeks after it opened. According to Mr. Libeskind, the Jewish Museum in Berlin has become one of the most popular museums in Europe.
“I was touched by its popularity. There were a lot of people among the younger generations of Germans who came to see the museum,” Mr. Libeskind said. “Now, it is part of the landscape of a new Berlin, a democratic Berlin.”

The project held a special meaning for Mr. Libeskind, a Jew who was born only a few hundred kilometers from Berlin and lost his immediate family in the Holocaust.
The museum is shaped as if the Star of David had been uncoiled and formed into a zigzag line. The straight line of what he called the Void cuts through the ensemble as a whole, “connecting,” or dividing, the museum spaces. The building has narrow windows, which form aimless straight lines and give the effect of light filtering through a dark interior, as seen in Gothic structures.
The architect said that the windows symbolize “slits” or the “wounds” of the Jews who suffered during World War II. The bridges that connect the physical Void are “a connection to a difficult past,” he said, although “there is no bridge in history that connects to what is vanished.”
Mr. Libeskind’s career took a new turn after he won the competition to design the Ground Zero project, whose completion is scheduled for 2009. In his proposal, he said, “I arrived by ship in New York as a teenager, an immigrant... My first sight was the Statue of Liberty and the amazing skyline of Manhattan. I have never forgotten that sight or what it stands for.”
The project not only includes office buildings but also a museum with a memorial tower. “Historically, architecture has been a way to give people something memorable,” Mr. Libeskind said.
Regarding the controversy over the intervention by New York City officials that reportedly led to his diminished role in the project and a compromise in the original design, he said, “You have to understand this is just unprecedented. We are not just building a memorial tower but rebuilding Lower Manhattan.
“We have to remember that we are working with many different people and live in a democracy. We have transportation officials, retailers, victims and New York residents who are involved in the project,” he added.
This project, in turn, led to another one that is rather unusual for the architect. Hyundai Development Corp., one of the biggest apartment construction firms in Korea, suggested in November 2003 that Mr. Libeskind design the facade of its new headquarters building, after construction of the facility had already begun. Hyundai hoped that his contribution to the building would emphasize the company’s history of innovation.
“It was rather strange to design the facade,” Mr. Libeskind said, noting that he had never done so before. “There was a problem because everything else was set.”
Mr. Libeskind added that there was a limit to what he could create because the steel frame is only 1.5 meters (5 feet) wide. But, he said, “I believe the facade contributed something unexpected to the urban landscape” in a part of the city that was once destroyed by war and is coming back again.

by Limb Jae-un
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