Libeskind on Product Design and Falling In Love With Architecture Through Music

Sheila Kim Sheila Kim

“To be honest, I fell in love with architecture through music,” said celebrated architect Daniel Libeskind at Moroso in New York City on Friday evening. “I was a virtuoso on a very bizarre instrument: the accordion.” At this official launch event for his Gemma chair, which was previewed by Moroso last spring, Libeskind was interviewed by Surface magazine editor-in-chief Spencer Bailey and waxed philosophical discussing Nietzsche, Michelangelo and music, seemingly unrelated to his pursuits. But, as the evening wore on, it became clear that they all had relevance.

For instance, on winning a music prize in Tel Aviv in a former life, he recalls that the late conductor Isaac Stern told him because he’d already exhausted virtuosity of the accordion, he should move on to the piano. “It’s hard to go from vertical movement of the hands to horizontal. Piano’s horizontal,” Libeskind said. “I kind of drifted into other directions, and I discovered architecture. I don’t feel that I’ve given up music in going into architecture, I just changed my instrument. The instrument is more complex: it’s drawing, it’s other things.”

When asked to elaborate on how this applied to his original proposal for the World Trade Center, the architect responded, “You don’t just see the image of the towers, you hear the silence, that moment of collapse out of which the emptiness of that site comes through to us. You have to listen to the voices, the voices that are silenced. Out of that, you can create a structure within this void that lets you be able to continue it in the visual form.”

At one point, Bailey questioned Libeskind about hand-drawing versus computer, and, not afraid to get controversial, the architect replied that he uses an iPad and even did a tutorial on a drawing app for YouTube. “Technology is just another tool, just as a pencil is a tool and screen is a tool. I guess the first drawing was probably made in the sand with a stick saying ‘this is my side, my property, this is the border, over there is you.’ Somebody must have done that in the desert. It’s all about tools: a stick, piece of graphite, computer program … You need to have an idea, imagination, and you need to use a tool.”

But, getting back to what the evening was really about, the architect spoke on his first product design, a door handle, and how he initially felt that it was a waste of his time. “Then I thought about it for a minute. It’s not that stupid because I use door handles all the time. To open any door, you need a door handle!” A second door handle and then a whole door shortly followed. “I realized I missed the point that everything is truly designed.” From there, he designed mirrors, chandeliers, lighting systems and carpets. And now, Libeskind can add seating to his repertoire with the worldwide release of the Gemma collection.

The crystal informed the asymmetrical faceted design of this seating collection. “I love crystals. What is at the very bottom of the crystal comes to the surface and you look right through the surface into the depth of the crystal. The shape of a crystal has to do with an inversion of surface and depth.” Moroso teamed up with Italian company Feruglio Engineering to develop Gemma’s steel frame then cushioned and upholstered it with Blur, a soft knit fabric with an ombre effect that gradates from dark to light, offsetting the hard edges of the seat’s facets. The series also includes a sofa and upholstered bench for public spaces and solid-color leather upholstery options. “It’s a lot of fun. I love design,” Libeskind said of his forays into products. “The world of design and architecture are the same for me.”

Portrait of Libeskind at top by Keith MacDonald.

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