'Not manly enough': Berlusconi's verdict on Libeskind work

Perhaps, when the architect Daniel Libeskind produced his grand plans for an art museum and office tower designed to inspire civic pride in the heart of Milan, he should not have been surprised when Italy's gaffe-prone Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, said the bent structure emanated a "sense of impotence" because it is not manly enough.

But Libeskind, an American born in Poland, was so outraged that he accused Mr Berlusconi of being a xenophobe who proffers "repugnant" politics, according to the The Art Newspaper. The war of words culminated in the premier's latest threat this month to withdraw planning permission for the museum.

The spat began when Mr Berlusconi made an off-the-cuff remark about Libeskind's design for the tower, part of the Fiera Milano site. The skyscraper, intended to be situated between buildings designed by the British architect Zaha Hadid and her Japanese colleague Arata Isozaki, curves dramatically, a feature that displeased Mr Berlusconi.

Speaking to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, he expressed his chagrin through a series of light-hearted, sexual allusions.

The writer Umberto Eco weighed in support of Berlusconi's words saying: "Milan is full of people with crooked members. There will simply be one more in need of Viagra."

Critics of the design hoped that the Italian Prime Minister's intervention might prompt Libeskind to straighten up his design a little. But the award-winning architect, who designed Manchester's Imperial War Museum, the Jewish Museum in Berlin and a new building in Manhattan at the site of the World Trade Centre, hit back in an interview with the same newspaper by comparing Mr Berlusconi's aversion with Fascist ideology.

"In Fascist Italy, everything that was not 'straight' was considered 'perverse art'," said Libeskind. "My tower is inspired by the work of Leonardo da Vinci, and great Italian culture. [Mr Berlusconi] does not have the time or intellect to study these.

"As an American and Jew brought up in Poland, I find Berlusconi abominable. His concept of nationalism, of closing borders and denying what's different, is repugnant. He hates foreigners."

Some speculate that the Prime Minister might reconsider the planning permission.

Vittorio Sgarbi, a former culture adviser to the city of Milan, told the Italian periodical Il Giornale dell'Arte: "I don't think the Prime Minister will let him proceed with his skyscraper or his museum unless he apologises."

A spokeswoman for the Fiera Milano developers said she believed the project was still "on track".

It is not the first time hat Mr Berlusconi’s loose tongue has made him enemies. At the start of Italy’s EU presidency in 2003, he told a German MEP he would be perfect for a film role as a Nazi camp guard, while at the launch of his 2006 election campaign he angered Catholics by comparing himself to Jesus.

And in the wake of 9/11, he suggested Islam was a backward religion that might have to be “conquered” by the West.

...and other great works by the visionary American

JEWISH MUSEUM, BERLIN

Libeskind said the deaths of some of his relatives in the Holocaust made him an ideal candidate to design the Berlin museum, which opened in 2001. Its lightning bolt design was intended to “integrate physically and spiritually the meaning of the Holocaust into the consciousness and memory of the city”.

IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, MANCHESTER

Intended to represent a “globe shattered into fragments”, the museum opened in 2002 and is made up of three interlocking shards designed to embody earth, air and water. Libeskind says on his website that the structure constitutes “an iconic emblem of conflict”.

GROUND ZERO, NEW YORK

New York city planners turned to Libeskind to regenerate Ground Zero following the al-Qa’ida terror attacks of 11 September, 2001. Due to be completed by 2015, his designs include the 1,776ft Freedom Tower, a visitor centre, an underground museum and four office blocks in a spiral.

BAR-ILAN UNIVERSITY, RAMAT GAN, ISRAEL

Drawing on his Jewish heritage, Libeskind designed the university’s Wohl Centre, which was completed in 2005. The building contains a 1,000-seat cantilevered auditorium and its jagged form is designed to resemble an open book. The exterior is mostly clad in lacquered golden aluminium sheets.

LONDON METROPOLITAN UNIVERSITY

Inspired by the Orion constellation, the university’s new graduate centre was opened in 2004. Three dramatically intersecting blocks clad in stainless steel form a gateway to the campus on Holloway Road. Libeskind says the structure acts as a “magnet” to the university.

ALASTAIR BEACH

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