Although only two of his architectural designs have been completed to date, Daniel Libeskind already is one of the most famous architects of the late 20th century.
Combining complex, unusual forms with an intense search for architectural meaning, his works--built and unbuilt alike--have compelled attention (and sometimes attracted controversy) in Europe and the United States.
Libeskind, 53, came to architecture via a circuitous route. Born in Poland just after World War II to parents who had survived the Holocaust, he was a child prodigy whose talent as a concert pianist attracted large and enthusiastic audiences in the family's adopted country of Israel, and earned him a scholarship to study in the United States.
Once in New York, he abandoned his promising musical career to study first mathematics and then architecture at the Cooper Union. For more than two decades, his life in architecture was primarily academic--he was dean of the architecture school at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., from 1978 to 1985, and was a sought-after guest professor at other schools. He also wrote dense, enigmatic texts on architecture and produced complicated, beautiful drawings for imagined buildings.
The major break from theory to practice occurred in June 1989, when Libeskind won a competition to design the Jewish Museum in Berlin with a startling proposal for a multi-part building with tilting walls and oddly shaped interiors. Laid out in a zigzag pattern, the building plan appears to be a distorted Star of David. In its statement on the competition, the jury noted that Libeskind's entry was totally unlike any of the others, and called it "a profound response."
Plans for the building were still being finalized when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down in late 1989. Disagreements about the fundamental nature of the museum, along with a reduced budget for the effort in the now-united city, delayed construction. The museum, still lacking exhibits, did not open to the public until early this year.
Meanwhile, Libeskind began entering, and winning, other architecture competitions. A U.S. citizen, he today maintains a busy office in Berlin with a variety of commissions on the boards--the Jewish Museum in San Francisco, the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, England, and the highly controversial spiraling addition to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Libeskind's other completed building is in the north German city of Osnabrueck--the Felix-Nussbaum-Haus, a museum dedicated to the harrowing autobiographical works of a Jewish painter killed in Auschwitz. The conflicted interiors in Libeskind's building are themselves reflections on Nussbaum's life, and the architecture embraces aspects of the site's tortured history. One of the corridor-like rooms, for instance, points directly to the so-called "Brown House," a 19th-century villa that was for a time the local headquarters of the Nazi Party.
Libeskind often gives his projects darkly poetic titles. He referred to the Berlin museum design as "Between the Lines" and the Osnabrueck building as "Museum Without an Exit."
CAPTION: Libeskind's Felix-Nussbaum-Haus, a German museum dedicated to the works of a Jewish painter killed in Auschwitz.