Contemporary Jewish Museum Aerial view at night / bitter bredt
Tsipi: Do you do research?
Daniel: I put my ear into the ground, I send my eyes to secret locations, you know, you have to meet the people. You have to be able to discover something that is not in any book, or in any internet program…
Tsipi: So would you walk the streets of a given place?
Nina: Yes I think Daniel never builds a building without going to the place, and he walks the site. He literally listens to the sounds and the people, and sometimes the inspiration comes almost immediately when he’s standing in the middle of a place, sometimes it comes later.
But…you know, nobody says that Picasso isn’t developing a body of work, and nobody says that’s wrong, or right, they just assume that an artist has an idea and they will continue with that idea until that idea is over.
And people like Frank Gehry have an idea or, other people. I think it’s a signature, and that signature is a good signature, whatever he’s developed, he’s developing in a particular way. Again… some buildings may be more successful than other buildings, but it is an attitude which is kind of painterly, I would say, which is to take an idea and move it forward.
Daniel has a different approach, which is that each site has a sound to it, a voice in it…you know…aspirations about what people’s dreams are, what the conditions are. Most of them are very urban sites, they’re not sites that are in the middle of nowhere, so I think, it’s a different approach.
But both of those approaches, I would say, are very much a personal signature. And those personal signatures are far more important to me as a citizen of a city or of the world, are far more important as a personal signature than the kind of faceless boxes, that also have, you know very little soul to them.
Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco
Tsipi: So in fact there are architects whose signature is more focused on the exterior signature, a stylistic signature, that they are taking an idea all the way through. Your way is more touching the soul, I would say, putting your ear to the ground, and that’s your signature ?
Daniel: Well, you’re right, because I don’t really spend too much time on the surface connections, I am interested in the space of the building, in the light of the building. So I don’t use expensive materials, I don’t use expensive technologies, but I’m interested in kind of the raw idea of what a space can do, even when you have a low budget.
Tsipi: Ok, that is very important. Out of the buildings you have planned, which buildings presented the most difficult decisions, challenges, and hesitations? What were they?
Daniel: I would say none of the buildings presented hesitations but challenges, yes, complexities, I mean if you take the Jewish Museum, in Berlin which was my first building…
Tsipi: Did you do any other Jewish Museums?
Daniel: Several other Jewish Museums, yes. The San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum; the Danish Jewish Museum; the Felix Nussbaum Museum, I’m also doing the Ohio Statehouse Holocaust Memorial.
Tsipi: And the Berlin Jewish Museum was also your first building; very symbolic.
Daniel: It is, because it set the stage for how complex architecture is in terms of history, in terms of memory, in terms of politics, in terms of garnering a public support for a building, which is a public building, because you cannot build a building just because you have a drawing.
So that building summarized all the challenges in a way, that, without that building I don’t think we could have ever done Ground Zero. Ground Zero is multiplied in scale but it has the same challenges. Memory, what to do, how to resolve conflicts, how to bring consensus, how to integrate many different voices into a project that has not only a practical resonance but also symbolic and is future oriented.
And there are other projects, of course, each project has its own challenges. Designing a high density, almost a whole city in Singapore is a huge challenge. Then designing a small house in Connecticut, which I just finished, is also a challenge because it’s just for a couple.
Tsipi: I remember at the Utopia Talk, which I really enjoyed, you said that you are working with the Chinese people, with Chinese government officials, Nina said, how do poor people live, what do you do for that, what happened to this project? Where are we on that?
Daniel: We are working on it, we are working on this project right here…you’re not supposed to see it so please don’t take any photographs, but we are working on it…
Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco / bitter bredt
Tsipi: Do you think it is possible in New York, now, where they are trying very hard to incorporate affordable low income housing within more high rise multi family apartment construction?
Daniel: Generally high density means high buildings. It doesn’t mean low buildings. I think people have to realize that building high is not about architects wanting to build high. It’s what cities of the future will be.
Because in order to preserve the environment, to reduce the dependence on private transportation and encourage public transport, to be able to have spaces for parks and for children, and create a decent and livable city, you need high density.
Everybody will be living in high density. And everybody should live actually in smaller areas than they inherited from their parents’ time.