Design row over peace-building centre

Architect Daniel Libeskind has been criticised by his peers for failing to reflect unique nuances of The Troubles

Tom Peck
Friday 10 May 2013 11:41 BST

As the man behind Berlin’s Jewish Museum and several other conflict-inspired buildings, Daniel Libeskind seemed a natural choice to redevelop the notorious Maze Prison.

His design for the new peace centre at the site near Lisburn, which is due to open in 2015, was a typically spiky, angular affair, as is the Polish-born architect’s wont.

To the untrained eye his £18m proposals for the Maze, which were approved last month, appear rather similar to his other war-oriented constructions, which, for the most part, are concerned with the Holocaust and the Second World War.

The plans have now sparked a row in the architecture world amid claims that Mr Libeskind has failed to reflect the unique complexities and nuances of the The Troubles, with particular regard to what happened on the site where 10 Republican hunger strikers died in 1981.

In an opinion piece for The Architects’ Journal, deputy editor Rory Olcayto wrote: “Now that Libeskind has become the go-to architect for clients seeking buildings that commemorate tragic events, there is a sense he believes all conflicts are much the same.”

He added: “The problem is, unlike the Holocaust ... there’s no consensus on much that happened during Northern Ireland’s long sectarian war.”

The criticisms prompted an immediate response from Libeskind, 66, who wrote a letter to the magazine insisting he had engaged with the conflict in Northern Ireland.

“The design concept for the PbCRC [Peace-building and Conflict Resolution Centre] evolved after extensive engagement with key stakeholders who were subsequently formed into six reference groups,” he wrote.

“I did not say that the design of the Centre should reflect any particular group’s story. I listened extensively to the multiple perspectives presented and what I said was, ‘All stories should be told’, which has been everyone’s goal from the start.”

The disagreement follows the broader criticism of Mr Libeskind’s work that it all looks the same.

It was his design for the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which opened in 2001, that propelled him to fame in the realm of architecture. He has since designed The Military History Museum at Nuremberg, Germany, and the UK’s Imperial War Museum North.

But his immediately recognisable style, which has won admiration for its representation of war and conflict, has also been deployed on a range of casinos and residential developments, including apartment blocks in Singapore and shopping centres in Las Vegas and Switzerland.

The British architect Piers Gough of CZWG said that Mr Libeskind is no worse than any other great architect, when it comes to repetition, though: “‘Variations on a theme’ is how you put it,” he told The Independent.

“The world is vast, it’s huge. It’s not like we’re overburdened with Danny Libeskind buildings. All great artists plagiarise themselves. I wish Danny Libeskind was more prolific.”

Variations on a theme? Libeskind's designs

Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

Museum of Military History, Dresden

Crystals retail complex, Las Vegas

Westside shopping centre, Bern

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