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Interview With Daniel Libeskind

Aired February 8, 2003 - 18:20   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: This week two finalists were selected in the design competition for rebuilding at the former site of the World Trade Center. One design is the work of a New York led team called, Think. The other, though, is by Berlin-based architect Daniel Libeskind; and he joins us now from New York.
Daniel, it is so great to meet you.

DANIEL LIBESKIND, ARCHITECT: Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

LIN: And congratulations. When is it that you are going to find out, by the way, whether you've won? LIBESKIND: I think three weeks from now; we have three weeks to the next phase.

LIN: Well, it is truly an amazing opportunity for any architect.

I want to show some pictures of what you have designed for the World Trade Center site. And it is really remarkable, indeed. I'm wondering if, Daniel, you could just kind of walk us through, what is the design? What is it exactly that we're looking at?

LIBESKIND: Well, I don't see the pictures that you have, but the design is really dealing with how to bring the memorial, the site of the memorial, which has to be really a spiritual, sacred space. And together with the cultural activities that would surround it. That would provide a kind of filter for it.

And then, build a bustling wonderful city of the 21st century, with a restoration of a spectacular skyline, which Manhattan, of course, needs. So, that is really the design as a whole.

LIN: What we're looking at now, I believe, it almost looks like a sunken courtyard area. Is this the area where you are trying to preserve the slurry walls which keep the Hudson River waters back?

LIBESKIND: Well, this is a very important element of the design. The fact that it is not just the footprints of where the towers stood, but really the death (ph) of, and the slurry walls which survived the attack. Which are really an engineering wonder and which really stand as a testament of our democracy.

The foundations of democracy held. And I think that is a very moving. And that's really the area which I think has to be left (ph) for the memorial. And then around it, there are cultural activities; there is museum; there is a September 11 Plaza.

And then, of course, on the other side are the great buildings, the station, the high-rise buildings. And a kind of entryway, which I think is a gateway into the site. Which I call the Retro Void (ph), which is designed in such a way that on every September 11 between 8:56 a.m., when the first plane struck, and at 10:28 a.m. when the second tower collapsed, the sun will shine without shadow in that space. And that will be, also, a tribute to altruism and courage of all those heroes.

LIN: Oh, that is fascinating. You study the light at the location, which I know many architects are fascinated by light and the symbolism of light.

You had an opportunity to actually meet, many times, I think, but on one particular occasion you showed some of the victims' families your design. Tell me about that meeting, because I heard that many of them cried when they saw what you had come up with.

LIBESKIND: Well, it was a very moving thing to speak to people who -- who are part of the disaster. And I think the families of victims, the people I met on the street, the people who came over to me during the exhibition, people who wrote to me. I received hundreds and hundreds of e-mails, which I respond to, from all people, citizens from all walks of life.

And it is very moving because one has to see the site not as just another site of development but it is a very special site. It is a site that souls and hearts of all Americans. And you have to remember that I came to America as an immigrant. You know, on a ship, through the Statue of Liberty. And I saw that skyline, not just as a representation of steel and concrete and glass, but as really the substance of the American Dream.

You know, I went to the Boston (ph) School of Science. I studied architecture in New York. So, really I was very moved, like everyone else, to try to contribute something that has that resonance and profundity of it means to all of us.

LIN: And it is a delicate balance, isn't it, Daniel? I mean, if you come up with something so beautiful, you know, don't you risk -- you know, to critics, that you are not honoring the tragedy. Yet, if you come up with something so raw then it becomes this stark reminder of the sadness of what happened.

LIBESKIND: Well, I didn't want to have the reminder sort of in the sky, so that people would forever look at it. I wanted to have -- really to create a city from the bottom up. From that foundation, which held, from the democratic power of what the site really is.

And it has its voice, a huge voice because all the memorials and all these things already happened in that site. We all came to see that site. We all walked around it. It is already sacred. And I just wanted to provide a generous area, which can now be developed by the competition. There will be a competition for the memorial. And then it can be developed with trees, with planting. It can become a very beautiful place protected from the streets, because it is below. And it can be something very moving and very private. I think it has to be private, with nothing on top of it, with no buildings on top of it, but something which is surrounded by a meditative atmosphere.

LIN: Yes, that is something that really struck me about your design. In standing in that courtyard area, with the slurry walls, because anybody who has been down at Ground Zero feels the spirit of the place and the drama of the place. And I think that is something for me, what your design really brings out in that location.

LIBESKIND: Well, I think one doesn't really have to invent this memorial space, because it is already there. And it is speaking with a voice and, you know, 4 million of us came to see the site. And it is -- you know, we peer into that wall. We look into that wall. We see the traces of what held. And we are part of it already.

LIN: Right. Daniel, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I'll look forward to see what the results of the competition are. And we'll see what happens with your design. What a vivid imagination.

LIBESKIND: Thank you so much.

LIN: Daniel Libeskind.


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