With his design of the Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre, Daniel Libeskind is looking to put the City University on the world map. The celebrated architect talks to Edmund Lee ahead of the building's grand opening.
For the CMC building, what were the initial instructions from CityU? And what’s the concept behind your design?
Well, the initial instruction is that it has to be a very responsible building in terms of its economic cost, [which] is very strictly controlled. The consequence [is] to take up that responsibility and create a building that is really creative, because it’ll be home to the departments of computer science, media and communication, applied computer, interactive media, new media, film, design, photography. [My task is] to create a building that has a vibrant creative aspect in combining the black box spaces – which range from offices for animation to sound spaces or screening rooms or recording studios – and public spaces that are interactive, that are really part of the Hong Kong tradition. So it really was a challenge.
Was there any particular image that inspired the building design?
It’s literally carved out of the mountain and it has a crystalline structure. It sort of rises in a dynamic way from that carved-out space and, of course, it is shaped to reflect the light and the views and bring the inside and outside together.
Do you foresee the CMC becoming one of our city’s architectural icons in the near future?
Well, we will have some of the most creative people in the world in this building. [Laughs] It’s an inward-looking building, but it’s also an outward-looking building. There’re spaces for people to visit, for tourists to come to, for exhibitions and outreach programmes, for people interested in the development of Hong Kong and of the world. So, I think yes. It’s certainly a building that raises the bar for what a university in the 21st century should be.
And how does the building fit into your body of work as an architect?
I’m most proud of it. And I think what informs it is what connects it to my other projects: it’s not about a façade, it’s not about just the clever look of the building, but it’s about the space itself. It’s not just an interesting-looking building, but the way people use the building and the interaction between different programmes in the building is something that I think is unique in itself. It certainly doesn’t look like any other university setting and that’s what I believe in: architecture is not just an exterior garment, it’s really expressive of the activities and of the energy that it represents in its spaces – in terms of light, material, proportion, acoustics and so on.
You became an architect relatively late – it hasn’t been such a long time since your first building opened – and yet you’re already considered by some as one of the ‘starchitects’ in the world. In your opinion, what is it about your designs that have set you apart from your peers?
You know, I didn’t come to architecture under the normal path – you’re right. My first building [the Jewish Museum Berlin] was opened in 2001. I never made even a small building before that. So, it’s a relatively short span of time. I think my approach to buildings is perhaps a little different from my colleagues, because I’m interested in the humanistic background of architecture, which connects it to philosophy, to poetry, to dance, to music (I was a musician for a long time), to mathematics and science. It’s not about just the technical idea of buildings, but really about communicating with the wider world of human beings, based on a human scale, of human imagination, on human desire. It’s actually a little different from many people, who approached architecture as more of just the idea of buildings. A building should be [based on] ideas and emotions; it should communicate history; it should connect tradition – which may often be obscured by what is surrounding it – to something that is vivid and living.
Apart from your ongoing role as the master planner for the reconstruction of the World Trade Centre site, how many other architectural projects are you working on at this moment?
Oh my god. Probably about… [laughs] Probably about 25 or 30. They’re in different phases: some are sketches [at their] beginnings, some are under construction, some are… so yeah. But, ah, many, many projects – and they’re all over the world. I’ve been very fortunate.
The CMC (18 Tat Hong Avenue, Kowloon Tong) opens on Oct 28 with a Chinese dragon parade and a musical performance by Japanese saxophone quintet Yasuaki Shimizu & Saxophonettes. It kicks off the Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre Grand Opening Festival, a six-month programme of dance and music performances, animation screenings, installations, new media art exhibitions and symposia that runs until Apr 30, 2012. For full programme details, visit www.cityu.edu.hk/cmc.