A closer look at the architectural philosophies of David Childs and Daniel Libeskind, with a slideshow of their best-known works.
The collaboration between David Childs and Daniel Libeskind was a difficult one, not only because both men are architectural superstars accustomed to being in charge of their own projects, but because they approach architecture from two very different perspectives. Where Childs speaks in terms of engineering and a building's physical and structural connection to its surroundings, Libeskind likes to use analogies, relating his buildings to their environment through a complex web of symbolism. Architecture critic Paul Goldberger wrote in his book Up from Zero that Childs started work on the Freedom Tower, believing that "the design of a skyscraper begins with its structure, not a pictorial ideal"; while Daniel Libeskind's design "began not with a structural idea but with a visual goal, to create an abstract form that would suggest the profile of the Statue of Liberty."
These differences have a foundation in the education and early training of the two men and have come into sharp relief as their careers have progressed. Childs received both his graduate and undergraduate degrees in architecture at Yale, where according to the dean of the architectural school, Robert Stern, "the act of building [is] paramount." Libeskind, on the other hand, was trained in the more theory-based program at New York's Cooper Union and later received a master's degree in the history and theory of architecture at Essex University in England.
After graduating in 1971, Childs threw himself into the business of architecture by joining the internationally renowned architectural firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the firm that designed the Sears Tower in Chicago -- at the time, the largest building in the world. Libeskind, though he was offered a job at the firm of the New York architect Richard Meier, quit after only seven days. Though he respected Meier's work, he wanted to design buildings of his own, not copy someone else's designs. "I hated how the young architects would copy the Meier formula," Libeskind is quoted as saying in a 2003 New Yorker profile. He would later compete against Meier in the 2002 Innovative Design Study to design a master plan for Ground Zero.
For many years, Libeskind remained in academia, teaching architectural theory at schools such as the prestigious Cranbrook Academy, before eventually founding his own school, Architecture Intermundium, in Milan in 1985. Working in academia gave Libeskind the opportunity to design highly experimental projects that were often unbuildable. One of his projects from this period, "Chamber Works," wasn't a building design at all, but an installation of 28 abstract drawings inspired by music and the writings of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. It wasn't until 1989 that one of these experimental designs -- for the Jewish Museum Berlin -- was chosen to be built. As a result, he founded his own architectural firm, Studio Daniel Libeskind.
Childs, meanwhile, was busy at SOM designing high-profile projects for airports, businesses, even the National Park Service -- projects that, above all, needed to be highly functional and cost-effective. Many of these projects were so complex, due to the rigid demands of developers and the restrictions of city planners, that they required teams of architects, engineers, and designers to work for more than a decade before they could be completed. As a partner and former chairman of the firm, Childs has led a number of these teams and seems to have a proclivity towards some of SOM's most complex projects, including the AOL Time Warner Center, the redeveloped Penn Station, and the Bertelsmann Building.
Years of working for different types of clients and in different business settings has greatly influenced the styles of the two architects and the types of projects they have completed. To meet the needs of his clients -- some of the largest corporations and financial institutions in the world -- Child's designs have needed to conform to strict programs for interior space and building usage, fit their surroundings, and yet make a distinctive visual statements. Though Paul Goldberger wrote in the issue of the quarterly Architecture and Urbanism devoted to Child's work that "there is no such thing as a 'David Childs style'," his designs nonetheless have many exterior features in common: gleaming facades of glass and steel or glass and stone, and basic trapezoidal shapes like rectangles, parallelograms and octagons. His earlier work evokes classic architectural forms, from the plinths and obelisks of ancient times to the classic skyscrapers of New York, and his later work, particularly his transportation projects, have a unique clarity, simplicity, and spaciousness.
Conversely, Libeskind's buildings could not be mistaken for those of any other architect. They are composed of sharply jutting, crystalline shapes that leave an indelible mark on the landscape. Frequently, his clients are public educational or cultural institutions that allow him large budgets and great leeway in designing the layout of his buildings. This freedom has allowed Libeskind to create a unique and experimental architectural form that employs a complex symbolism and can evoke specific emotional responses from visitors. A tour through the Jewish Museum Berlin, for instance, is meant to suggest the journey of all of Germany's Jews through the horrors of the Holocaust, and its floor plan follows the shape of an unwound Star of David. These emotional designs tend to resonate with public audiences, yet Libeskind's projects are often stalled or altered by developers who do not share his vision, contractors who have difficulty translating them into a reality, and critics who balk at their expense and their affect on the skyline.
What follows is a selection of work from each architect's portfolio that illustrates the breadth of their projects and their distinctive styles.
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posted sept. 7, 2004
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