The Architect As Global Mensch

by Sharon Rosen Leib January 2, 2019


danial-lWorld-famous architect Daniel Libeskind’s “Edge of Order” is a lush hardcover tome – physically heavy and brimming with advice for living creatively.  At first glance, it looks like a funky, coffee-table book.  But parking “Edge of Order” on a table, without taking the time to read it, would be a missed opportunity to experience the wonders of Libeskind’s mind.

At 72, Libeskind possesses the wisdom of a worldly Jewish elder. His Polish parents survived the Holocaust by fleeing to Russia.  They returned to Lodz, Poland after World War II ended.  Daniel’s mother gave birth to him in a Polish homeless shelter in 1946.  From the grim darkness of post-WW II Poland, the Libeskinds moved to technicolor, kinetic Israel in 1957. There, young Daniel pursued his passion for music and became an accomplished accordionist. Two years later, when he was 13, the family moved to New York.

Daniel’s boundless creative energy shifted from music to drawing.  He planned on studying art at New York’s Cooper Union, but his mother insisted he learn something more practical, thus launching his architectural career.

Libeskind came of age in the tumultuous 1960s, questioning authority with gusto.  He writes of asking his architecture professor why he took attendance and graded his students.  The professor challenged him to tear up the class grade book. Libeskind complied, shredding it to bits. After the professor ceased giving grades, his students began to express themselves more freely – without fear of being judged.  Libeskind learned sometimes the best outcome can be achieved by changing the game, rather than playing by established rules.  His chutzpah enabled him to bust establishment constraints and design his own career path.

Every page of “Edge of Order” reveals Libeskind’s genius and eclecticism. He uses different font sizes and typefaces; tangerine, silver and rainbow paper; sketches; photographs; acrylic overlays; fold-out pages and inserts to make the book a work of art.  The combination of accessible text and brilliant design fulfills his mission of inviting everyone into the architectural process.

Libeskind shares a favorite quote from Le Corbusier, one of the 20th century’s greatest architects, “You only need two things to be an architect: to travel and to read books.”  After reading this, I thought sign me up, please!

Libeskind describes his process as 90 percent conventional and 10 percent new.  For the “new” aspects of his work, he draws inspiration from Jewish mysticism and symbology and his extensive knowledge of literature and art – ranging from classical to modern. He embraces a messy creative process because he believes by accepting chaos, we open ourselves to finding the magic.

His philosophy of buildings as vessels for meaning makes him one of the most sought-after contemporary architects.  His vision has resulted in masterpieces of memory and hope, including the Jewish Museum Berlin; the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco; the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa and the World Trade Center Master Plan.  When he visited the post 9/11 structural remains of the World Trade Center, he felt the rebirth of the site must be led by the lost souls who perished there.  His emotionally affecting design combines substantial buildings with wide-open empty spaces to create a sense of grieving and renewal.

Libeskind’s works in progress span the globe from Lithuania to Saudi Arabia.  He’s a sensitive, intelligent global ambassador whose book breathes optimism into our politically troubled world.

Libeskind will appear at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center’s Garfield Theater on Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. to discuss and sign his book.  Tickets are available at


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