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World Trade Center Architect to USF Students: "Have Faith in Your Dreams"
Architect Daniel Libeskind, seated second from left, and his wife, Nina, toured and met with students at USF's School of Architecture and Community Design. Looking on, seated third from left, is School of Architecture and Community Design with Director Robert MacLeod.

Before his public lecture last week, internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, designer of Berlin’s Jewish Museum and New York’s World Trade Center, took the chance to share practical advice and inspirational words with students studying at USF’s School of Architecture and Community Design.

“Do what you really want to do,” Libeskind told a standing-room-only audience of USF students who gathered for a Q&A session on the afternoon of April 13, prior to his speaking engagement at the USF School of Music that evening.

“Don’t just follow what has been successful, because success is very thin and very short-lived,” he said. “Don’t get on a bandwagon. Do something interesting.”

A native of Poland who immigrated to the United States as a teenager, Libeskind was a professional musician before deciding to study architecture. Having entered the field relatively late in life, Libeskind’s first building, the Jewish Museum in Berlin, opened in 1999, when he was 53.

Today, his portfolio includes high-profile commissions throughout Asia, Europe and the Americas, including the Denver Art Museum, San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum, the Danish Jewish Museum, Royal Ontario Museum, and numerous commercial and residential projects. In 2003, Libeskind created the winning master plan for the rebuilding of New York’s World Trade Center. He runs Studio Libeskind, with offices in New York and Zurich, with his wife, Nina, who accompanied him to USF.

With each of his creations, Libeskind has learned something new, be it about architecture or working with clients, and the USF students were eager to hear about it all.

Design can originate in the most unusual of ways, Libeskind said, such as the time he tossed a teapot out his office window and then reassembled the pieces, in the process finding inspiration for the United Kingdom’s Imperial War Museum North.

Yet every design should be based in a love for the site, and a desire to create something bigger than a blueprint.

“You cannot relate to it as a job … You have to be very in tune with what you’re doing. You have to be very sensitive and dedicate yourself to something that is not always very obvious … This is an art,” he said.

Also pivotal to any project, Libeskind emphasized, is a good rapport with the client.

“What is the first step you should take?” Libeskind asked. “You have to like the client. I don’t do a project unless I’ve met with the client.”

Libeskind, who won both the Jewish Museum and World Trade Center jobs, encouraged students to take part in competitions in order to keep growing in the profession.

“Architects have a desire to outstrip their own past,” he said. “That’s part of being an architect. That’s part of being an artist. Competitions keep you in the game.”

One student asked Libeskind what he thinks the role of architects will be in the future.

“That depends on the architect. Some architects are proving our obsolescence. Ninety percent of our environment is not architecturally significant,” he said.

“The role of the architect will depend on you … Have faith in your dreams.”

Before his Q&A with students, Libeskind toured the School of Architecture and Community Design with Director Robert MacLeod. Libeskind was impressed that students at the school create scale models of their designs, a method he still employs even as many other architects have gone digital.

“You can smell a good school,” he said. “It’s the smell of wood and glue.”

The time spent with Libeskind left an impression that students and other attendees said will last well into their own careers in architecture.

“Daniel Libeskind is an inspirational speaker and has great design work,” said alumnus Chris Weaver, who completed his Master of Architecture in 2016 and is currently teaching in the School of Architecture & Community Design. “I’ve had the opportunity to visit a few of his buildings before, and it was fascinating to hear the personal story that paralleled their production. I think the most valuable lesson from his presentation was the manner in which he wove his projects into a greater narrative. I think this made the work accessible to both those with and without an architectural background.”

Story by Rachel Pleasant, University Marketing & Communications, Photo provided by USF College of the Arts