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The Israel Building Center Group held a reception last Saturday to honor the internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind at the Wohl Center, Bar-Ilan University's ultra-modern convention center designed by Libeskind.
The purpose of the evening was twofold: to honor the man and to inaugurate a gallery of contemporary art at the Wohl Center.
The center is the architect's first project in Israel but will probably not be the last. Libeskind, guest of honor at the Real Estate and Business Congress organized last week by the Israel Building Center, indicated in his speech that he intends to design more Israeli projects.
The Polish-born American architect rocketed to fame in 2003 after receiving a commission to create the master plan for the redevelopment of the 16-acre World Trade Center site destroyed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack.
Libeskind has been dubbed by the BBC as America's most visionary architect.
"I am not a conventional architect," he explains. "For me, architecture is an expression, a work of art which also has to combine with the environment. Ever since I became involved in architecture, I had an abhorrence for conventional architecture offices. There was something about the atmosphere of redundancy, routine and production that made me allergic to all forms of specialization and so-called professionalism. When I begin a project, it develops in unexpected directions through a practice which does not mimic existing procedures but attempts to break through into the excitement, adventure and mystery of architecture."
Libeskind's works cover a spectrum of architecture: museums, galleries, office tower blocks and residential housing. "This building in which we are now sitting is an expression of Jewish philosophy that combines the spirit with matter," he told some 200 guests at the reception. "As you can see, its fa ade is metallic and golden. That is matter. And just as in Judaism, matter is the outside while the core inside is spiritual. In this building the spiritual meaning is the important inside. We have a multipurpose building of interlocking halls, a gallery of contemporary art, halls, lecture halls, etc. The biblical Golden Calf is the outside, the Torah in the inside."
Such a philosophy is appropriate for a building that belongs to the religious university of Bar-Ilan, but Libeskind adapts himself to the architectural needs of many cultures worldwide.
Besides the Ground Zero project, he has built or is building projects all over the globe.
"Libeskind's most impressive works are office buildings and ultramodern high-rise office and apartment tower blocks in places such as Sacramento, Warsaw, Milan and Singapore," says Doron Aviv, one of Israel's leading developers who built the country's tallest building, the Moshe Aviv Tower.
Libeskind's designs are stunning and breathtaking - so much so that local government authorities usually agree to his plans even if they are completely at odds with a city's master plan.
When he recently designed a new seafront residential area in Singapore, one of the most strictly regulated urban areas in the world, the local government authorized construction of a group of apartment blocks 50 percent taller than the maximum allowed height. City planners are amazed at the optical impression of his designs and the way they blend into the environment.
Similar architectural creations will probably grace Israeli cities in the near future, after Libeskind came to a working agreement with Eran Rolls, chairman of the Israel Building Center Group. The Israel Building Center will represent Libeskind in Israel and look for projects suitable for his talents.
Reaching new heights
Libeskind's Ground Zero design was selected by a committee with representatives of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the state governor and the mayor. His office was one of two architectural teams selected as finalists from the seven designs unveiled in December 2002.
The other finalist was the New York-based THINK Team partnership that included Rafael Vinoly and Frederic Schwartz of New York, and Shigeru Ban of Tokyo.
Both designs placed emphasis on cultural activities. Libeskind's plan proposes a single 541 meter (1,776 feet) tall glass tower whose highest stories are conceived as a vertical garden. It will be the tallest tower in the world, exceeding the height of Malaysia's 452 meter (1,483 feet) Petronas Towers.
The main element of the design is the "void," creating a permanent reminder of 9/11. A memorial museum, housed in a glass cube, leans out over the void and an elevated walkway, "memorial promenade," encircles most of it. The design focuses on the memorial and cultural spaces, placing most of the required commercial space on the periphery, which will allow other architects to design the various commercial towers.
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