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Daniel Libeskind: Of cities, skylines and souls

“[Daniel] Libeskind designs buildings that feature sharp angles, glass ceilings, and slanted walls, and then he describes them as if they were the inevitable result of his patriotic and optimistic instincts . . .”—The New Yorker Magazine

Daniel Libeskind is a prolific architect known for his ultra-modern and out-of-this-world structures that range from such landmarks as the Jewish Museum in Berlin, to skyscrapers like the Reflections towers at Keppel Bay, Singapore.

In 2003, The New Yorker magazine published a comprehensive profile of Libeskind, depicting a vivid image of the architect including his avant-garde works, his career’s controversies, his poetic speech, and his relationship with wife and business partner Nina.

A decade after the story’s publication, the Philippines found the international superstar of architecture at its doorstep as Libeskind broke ground for his very first project in the country—what is to be the Century Spire—in partnership with luxury developers Century Properties Group Inc.

Glass-clad with 60 floors of residential, office and amenity spaces, the project is set to rise in 2018 at Century City, the mixed-use, integrated development of Century Properties along Kalayaan Avenue in Makati City.

Century Properties chairman and Executive Chairman of the Board Jose Antonio and Century Spire project head Robbie Antonio, together with guests of honor, the Libeskind couple, officially launched the high-rise tower in May.

Held at the Century City Mall, the event was highlighted by a forum dubbed “Elevating a City through Architecture and Design,” and was attended by stakeholders, the media, and young architecture students.
There, Libeskind spoke of the spirit of architecture and the soul of a place and its people—showing he employs not only technical skills but also the ability to feel as he designs.

Why Libeskind?
Among the many great contemporary architects of today, one may wonder—but never object—why Libeskind was chosen to design the Century Properties’ only brand-bearing building, Century Spire.

According to Robbie, who is also the managing director of Century Properties, everything can be traced back five years ago when they began working on a partnership with another internationally renowned company, Amarni/Casa Interior Design Studio.

Robbie recalled, “They asked us, ‘Why [build in the] Philippines, not China or Hong Kong, [or other nearby Asian] countries with more mature economies and more mature architectural design?’”

Temporarily accepting defeat with no intention of giving up, Ambassador Jose told Robbie to patiently wait for the right time and the next opportunity to bring in these world-class names to the Philippines.

It was in 2011 that the Century Group renewed their proposal, and acknowledging that the Philippine economy was indeed on the rise, the Giorgio Armani-led company finally said yes.

There was, however, one condition.

Robbie revealed, “Part of their clause was we need to hire a star architect—not for the sake of a major architect’s name but essentially because they wanted a solid product from the 60th floor all the way down to the lobby.”

As to how Libeskind came to mind, Ambassador Jose related his “unforgettable and surreal” experience at the Jewish Museum. “My experience going to Berlin’s [Jewish] Museum, and looking at the work of Daniel inspired me to work with him,” he said.

One of the largest Jewish museums in Europe, the impressive structure houses two millennia of German-Jewish history displayed in permanent and changing exhibits. The collections, the library and archives, the computer terminals at the museum’s Rafael Roth Learning Center, as well as the museum’s programs together present one of the most compelling parts of world history.

Opened in 2001, the Jewish Museum is now considered one of Berlin’s most frequented museums. (Wikipedia)

With Libeskind being a major part of what has become a world landmark in just a short span of 13 years, Ambassador Antonio’s anticipation over working with the architectural genius is but natural.

“It took us three years to put this team together—Studio Daniel Libeskind and Armani/Casa [for Century Spire]. But the wait was worth it because we will soon have in the Philippines a legacy building that will live beyond our generation,” he said.

Of many firsts
Century Spire is a development of many firsts. Not only is it the first residential-office tower to be designed by Architect Libeskind and Armani/Casa in the Philippines, but it is also the first whose name will have the Century Properties’ esteemed brand.

“This is the first time that we have put our name in a building that is mixed-used, while all our other [developments] are pure residential. We also decided to eventually relocate our offices here because we actually want to experience the building ourselves,” Robbie explained.

“Undisputedly, this is our most significant project. The architecture is beautiful, and the [interior] design of Armani is spectacular,” he added.

Century Spire will also be the last of eight towers to rise at Century City. The others are Knightsbridge Residences, Milano Residences, and Trump Tower, which will see completion in December 2014, 2015 and 2016, respectively. The Gramercy Residences was turned over in 2012.

Completing these residential properties is the newly opened Century City Mall and Centuria Medical Makati which both open their doors very soon.

Among all these major developments, Century Spire will stand as the community’s centerpiece, with 500 residential units varying from to one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments to penthouses, duplexes and suites. These units will occupy the upper part of the tower, while the lower third will be devoted to office spaces and amenities including a lobby, library, swimming pool, juice bar and relaxation area.

Spire’s story
With such excitement and expectation building up around Century Spire, how did Libeskind make sure his masterpiece for the Philippines is a one-of-a-kind tower?

In describing his design process, Libeskind said that he first studied the site not only in a geographical manner but also through culture and history. He did so in order to create a kind of “architecture that communicates.”

He shared, “The language of architecture does not communicate with words but with materials, with light, with proportions, with its sense of being. Those are the means that one uses and what I used to create the Century Spire.”

When asked what sets this building apart from his previous works, Libeskind replied, “I think it is not only unique [from] my [other] works; it is completely unique to the world. To my knowledge, there is no such building that has the drama of recalibrated spire.”

“Recalibrated spire” refers to the way the tower expands as it rises. At the top of the 245-meter building is a dramatic crown: three interlocking shafts in different heights. The architect likens this form to a tree.

The diagonally braced structure of Century Spire, meanwhile, creates distinctive spaces and floor plans. The tower is clad in a semi-reflective glass curtain wall, articulated with balconies and terraces that create a geometric pattern.

Libeskind poetically continued, “Architecture has to tell a story, but often it is not a story we know about. It is something not as visible as the building [itself]. The story of creativity, surrounding, sights, lights and colors. All those make up the shape, the character of a tower.”

On the part of Century Properties, Jose responded, “When we produce any residences or offices, we look at the long-term satisfaction of our buyers. Because owning a unit, a residence, or a flat in an iconic building such as Century Spire will give them a fantastic experience, comfort, elegance, and of course, the bragging rights of having an Armani/Casa and Daniel Libeskind home.”

Green features
Libeskind was also proud of the sustainability efforts he featured in the design of Century Spire. “I think you cannot design today without thinking deeply about sustainable green design,” he emphasized.

Among the “green” features of the building, as Libeskind began, “First of all, the fact that it is a tall building already makes it sustainable because we are not spreading development into a large footprint.”

He went on to talk about the importance of using quality materials like insulated glass and highly-efficient lighting systems to reduce the property’s energy consumption.

Water will also be recycled and reused for other purposes such as landscaping, for example.

“The way that we will cool the building is through [distribution of] air cooling condensers rather than a large centralized [cooling] plant. [There are also] the ventilated façades where windows can be opened for natural air to flow in,” he added. “All these to make the lowest possible carbon footprint.”

More importantly, Libeskind added, “But there is much more to sustainability. Sustainability is memory. It is also maintained and passed on from generation to generation.”

Words for the young
College architectural students who attended the groundbreaking of Century Spire were also given the chance to interact with Libeskind.

“There is an amazing new generation of [aspiring] architects in this room. I am always jealous of young architects because the world is waiting for their ideas,” the world-class architect acknowledged.

Asked what he thought of Philippine architecture, Libeskind answered, “When one sees the skyline developing very, very rapidly, one sees the need to really address questions of living. How to create a great city in terms of pedestrian, infrastructure, transportation [for] the millions of people living [in it]? But how can it be done?

“It cannot be done just by engineers. It cannot be done just by calculations. It has to be done with a sense of thought, of a poetic idea. Here in the Philippines, it also has to connect the deep memory of tradition of a place to the future,” he continued.

“You take the necessary risks to go forward, to invent things that have never been known before. Because only when one is daring and bold, one can do something new.”

With that, Libeskind remembered the great Leonardo da Vinci, whom he made a sculpture for in Milan, Italy. For the architect, da Vinci was “never resting in the past but always thinking of something new.”

“That is my advice to young architectures. Don’t just look into magazines and what has been done. Go off and take a risk. Don’t worry if people criticize you. Don’t worry if people think you’re crazy. You’ll ultimately succeed.”

Libeskind then went on to discuss the concept of “center of the world.”

“Every place that I’ve ever been to, people think that that’s the center of the world. This was true for New York, Milan, Ohio, China. When you think about it, you begin to ask, ‘What is the center of the world?’ ‘Where is it?’

“It’s where the soul is. It’s really where the heart lies and what the heart desires. Where there is a connection to something bigger than we are. For me, that connection is made between the spirit of architecture and humankind,” Libeskind ended.

Source: Manila Times | July 5, 2014


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