Starchitect’s Maze peace centre forgot the Irish

 

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There are two things about Daniel Libeskind’s design for the peace centre on the Maze prison site that are disappointing. The first is that the design language is unremarkable. This is yet another Libeskind signature building, a generically shattered architecture that, in this case, expresses loss, violence and a degree of reconciliation. But the design is not inherently different to Berlin’s Jewish Museum, which made Libeskind a starchitect, or his Las Vegas buildings.

The Jewish Museum’s complex form was based on a brilliantly conceived cat’s cradle of converging lines relating to addresses where Jewish people once lived. So, it’s perfectly reasonable to question what the Maze design means, specifically, to the Irish.

Libeskind’s response is somewhat defensive. He says the design responded to aspirations, was endorsed and received planning permission. But he fails to explain the design. It’s just not enough to say the building’s form “reflects an incremental process that’s very much like the Northern Ireland Peace process itself”.

There is, however, something more troubling about the situation. Why do clients tend to pick crassly obvious architects? It’s doesn’t say much for the sponsors of the Maze project that they seem to have defaulted into a safe, and marketably iconic choice. Maze equals the dark underbelly of conflict – therefore, Libeskind’s our man. I’m sure it wasn’t that simple, but there must have been some automatic allure to that particular architect.

Perhaps the sponsors felt safer with an outsider. But why should a peace centre’s symbolic presence risk being neutered by a design that, at best, can be described as merely international. Libeskind says, rather glibly, that his design sends a message about the possibility of a future beyond conflict. But not beyond architectural cliché, alas.

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