When Daniel Libeskind was a boy, he and his family fled Poland and arrived by ship in New York as immigrants. “The first things I saw were the Statue of Liberty and the amazing skyline of Manhattan. I have never forgotten those sights and what they stood for,” Libeskind said in 2003.
This skyline would grow and change as the boy made New York his home and became a world-renowned architect.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the skyline would forever be remembered for what wasn’t there anymore: the World Trade Center Twin Towers.
In 2003, two years after the terrorist attacks, Libeskind’s “Memory Foundations,” the name of his World Trade Center master plan, won over entries from other renowned architects to rebuild the site.
It was a contest fraught with politics and controversy, and the millions of New Yorkers made known their opinions on who and how it should be designed. Five guidelines were given to the architects: to recognize each individual who was a victim of the Sept. 11, 2001 and Feb. 26, 1993 attacks, to provide an area for quiet visitation and contemplation; an area for families and loved ones of the victims; and a separate accessible area to serve as the final resting place.
Libeskind’s previous designs include the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the Denver Art Museum, Reflections at Keppel Bay in Singapore and Royal Ontario Museum.
“When I was chosen for this project, New Yorkers were not sure whether they wanted to keep the site empty or rebuild it,” Libeskind said in a statement in 2003. “I thought about this seemingly impossible dichotomy for a long time. It seemed impossible to acknowledge the horror which had occurred while being hopeful enough to look to the future. In search of a way to reconcile these contradictory impulses I decided to visit the site, to stand within it, to watch people walk around it, to feel its power and to listen to its voices. This is what I heard, felt and saw.
“The most dramatic part of the Trade Center to survive the attack was the great slurry wall, an engineering wonder constructed on bedrock to hold back the Hudson River. Somehow, it had withstood the unimaginable trauma of the twin towers’ destruction, asserting, as eloquently as the Constitution, the durability of democracy and the value of human life.
“I knew that whatever was built had to let us enter this ground while at the same time creating a quiet, meditative and spiritual space. We needed a way to journey down 70 feet into the chasm, past the slurry wall, a procession with deliberation. Regardless of the revitalization aboveground, this part of the site had to be maintained to honor the dead.”
Other architects who have designed structures at Memory Foundations include Santiago Calatrava; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Foster and Partners; and Michael Arad and Peter Walker.
Libeskind took this space to link the past and future and at the epicenter he built a museum to Ground Zero. Memory Foundation is filled with symbolism: the Freedom Tower by Studio Daniel Libeskind Studio reaches 1,776 into the sky, referencing the year the US declared its independence; a plaza called Wedge of Light would be illuminated by the sun each morning of Sept. 11 at the exact times (8:46 and 10:28 a.m.) the two towers were attacked (critics later said that shadows, not light, would cover most of the plaza).
“Light is divine,” Libeskind says in his book Breaking Ground: Adventures in Life and Architecture, where he describes meeting family members of the victims, their faces bearing unspeakable grief. They unroll a canvas filled with “a dense sea of red dots” and ask him, “Do you know what this is?”
Libeskind and his wife Nina shake their heads.
“This is the mapping of all the bodies — and body parts—found on the site,” he is told.
He writes, “There must have been ten thousand dots, maybe more…and it felt as if each dot were exploding in my heart.”
But Libeskind is an optimist. He tells the story of someone once asking Goethe “what color he likes best.” Goethe’s answer: “I like rainbows.”
“That’s what I love about architecture: If it’s good, it’s about every color in the spectrum of life; if it’s bad, the colors fade away entirely.”
On Sept. 10, 2001, real estate developer and former Philippine Ambassador to China Jose “Joey” Antonio was literally sitting in the shadows of the Twin Towers having a cup of coffee. He had just wrapped up a business trip and was meeting a friend near the World Trade Center.
That night he left Manhattan and got on his flight at JFK to Manila. When he arrived on the evening of Sept. 11, he saw that everybody was glued to the TV monitors at the airport.
He heard the news and it shook him. Wasn’t it just yesterday that he was admiring those towers? And now they were burning, fallen to the ground and bringing with them thousands of people.
WTC was suddenly Ground Zero.
Antonio followed the news on the redevelopment of the site closely and told his son Robbie, then based in New York, that whoever won the contest they should get his design firm to do one of their buildings.
It wouldn’t be until 10 years after 9/11, shortly after the Century Properties went public and focused on super-luxury developments, that they had the right project for Libeskind: Century Spire.
Century Properties’ portfolio now includes collaborations with Trump, Philippe Starck, Versace, Missoni, Paris Hilton, and Daniel Libeskind. This is Libeskind’s first building in the Philippines and only the third in Asia, following Hong Kong and Singapore.
The building form has four elements: the residential tower base and the three interlocking forms at the pinnacle of the building to house the offices, amenity, event spaces, observatory and gardens.
Designing the interiors of the Century Spire is Armani/Casa Interior Design Studio.
Libeskind says of Century Spire, “I think this tower is totally unprecedented. It is a tower but as it gets to the upper region of the tower, it’s just like a tree. It branches out. It crystallizes into a number of really spectacular spaces. And that has never been done. There has never been a tower like this. Usually towers are the very opposite, they shrink as they go to the top. You get the antenna, you get a kind of smaller footprint. This one is taking advantage of the most expensive and the most spectacular, which are at the top of the tower. That’s where you want to be. All the forces are coming down but as you get to the top, you have inclinations, you have a great kind of light by reflection, refraction. You have that kind of treasure, really, that is presented to the city as its very highest point.”
He likens the top to the ancient columns, “literally the crown of columns….but actually being able to occupy those spaces.”
“It is a 21st century tower that creates a vibrant image celebrating Century properties and a new vision of residential living in the Philippines,” says Libeskind.
We sat down with Ambassador Antonio recently to discuss why it is important for the works of architects such as Daniel Libeskind to be present in the Philippines.
PHILIPPINE STAR: How did your initial meetings with Daniel Libeskind go, was it hard for you to convince him to do a project here?
JOSE “JOEY” ANTONIO: We said, Daniel, do our country a favor. We want to put up iconic buildings to show the world what the Philippines is all about. This is Century Properties’ contribution to the landscape and to the skyline of Manila, and by doing this we hope to help the country become a world city.
What was the brief you gave him?
We gave him cart blanche and he came up with Century Spire. We just said it would be a mixed-use structure, that the Century headquarters will be moved there, and it will have the Armani Suites as this is also a collaboration with Casa Armani. We feel humbled that he is doing this project with us.
Why is it important to you to bring in architects like him when they raise the cost of the structures and subsequently the unit prices?
Because the building’s design and character will be the only one that people will remember long after the price would have been forgotten. You’re buying real estate almost as a permanent investment. It’s not something you dispose of, it’s something you keep, and there is a lot of pride in owning a property that is beautiful. That is why we continue to do it, that is our DNA. We produce this because it will outlive all of us. The building will remain and it is our contribution to the country.
You can do a building by skimping on materials but that’s not what international buyers are looking for. They say they’d love to live in the country but give them a building that is world-class because they are used to that kind of level in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, New York, London. Even our Filipino expats abroad are used to this kind of products. These are the kind of people we attract.
If you compare our prices to Singapore and Hong Kong, we’re like 85 percent discounted because land here is a little cheaper. Same product, different city, 85 percent discount. We don’t have difficulty marketing our products because the brand, design and quality speak for themselves.
You’ve now collaborated with Trump, IM Pei, Philippe Starck, Missoni, Armani, Versace…
And Forbes. Forbes Media, owner of Forbes magazine, is putting up the first Forbes building in the world in the Philippines. It’s going to be an office building, a center for entrepreneurship for people whose goal is to get on the Forbes list. It’s not a crime to dream. Anybody who has the urge and propensity to become a businessman can do it. All the top successful people are self-made, very few of them come from inherited money. That’s the spirit we want to bring to Forbes Tower and that’s what Forbes stands for.
How different is your experience with each architect and designer?
The experience is various because they’re coming from different design DNAs. We collaborate with them because of their reputation and their work. Some are more avant-garde than others but they are all world players, their brands are recognized globally. It doesn’t need much explanation when you tell people this is an Armani, this is a Philippe Starck, they know they are the best in the world. We’re bringing them in because we want to share their success to the Philippines. The country has always been “the next picture,” the next Asian tiger. We want to say we’re “now showing.”
With Daniel it’s a wonderful experience just talking to him. It’s nonstop when we talk. When I was in New York in October Daniel personally accompanied me to the World Trade Center. He is a wonderful human being.
How do you feel about a lot of brand names coming here—Grand Hyatt Residences, Shangri-La, and Conrad?
It’s great, we welcome them because we are very far behind other cities. In Bangkok, all the major hotel brands are there. Before this surge, our newest five-star hotel was Makati Shangri-La, which is 23 years old.
What are your favorite buildings in the world?
Essensa by IM Pei, which we delivered it in 2000. It’s a beautiful building, I think it will outlive several generations. It’s the only one fully clad in travertine, same as the Colosseum in Rome, and it’s very difficult to duplicate now, sobrang mahal. We were the first building in Fort Bonifacio. People said then, you’re crazy, why are you building there? When you are starting something new, whatever it is, you have a lot of naysayers, people who don’t believe your vision but at the end of the day you will be proven correct.
Have you ever been wrong?
In terms of an overall vision, no. Like when we bought International School they said, there’s too much traffic there, the surrounding area is depressed. From my real estate experience abroad, I know you can gentrify a community, you can be an abler.