With Light, Moshe Safdie Builds a Global Architectural Legacy

January 22, 2014 12:18 am 0 comments

The view at the end of the prism of Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum, designed by Moshe Safdie. Photo: Timothy Hursley.

JNS.org - LOS ANGELES—“Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie,” on display at Los Angeles’s Skirball Cultural Center through March 2, lets the light shine in on the famed Israeli-Canadian architect’s work around the world.

Through architectural models, photos, and renderings, the retrospective reveals how Safdie, who was born in Haifa in 1938 and moved to Canada with his family when he was young, has integrated culture, history, and modern design into his projects on three continents.

Safdie’s work encompasses more than 85 completed buildings, communities, and master plans, converting into structures the dreams and construction budgets of a surprisingly diverse clientele—including mid-westerners in Wichita, Indian Sikhs in Punjab, and the governments of Israel, Canada, and the United States.

His most significant commissions have been for the public sphere: cultural centers, libraries, memorials, schools, religious facilities, and museums, including the Skirball Cultural Center, where two new buildings that he designed—spaces for social gatherings, lectures, and meetings—have recently been added to his overall plan for the culture center’s campus.

A sense of place is built into his work, especially at a site like Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., where low-slung pavilions are situated around reflecting pools, filled by a nearby stream.

“I can’t design without being on the site. I have to see the relationship,” Safdie, after taking a group on a tour of his recently completed Skirball structures, said in an interview with JNS.org.

Speaking of the Skirball, Safdie pointed out that “it’s not a building about religion.” It was the culture center’s “content” and “activities,” he believed, that would make a Jew identify with Judaism. “The architecture enhances the activity,” he explained.

The Skirball is “becoming increasingly social, not just Jewish,” said Safdie, who worked on the project from its inception with Skirball founding president and CEO Uri D. Herscher, who is also a rabbi.

“People have written generally that museums are becoming a replacement for houses of worship,” said Safdie, whose additions to the Skirball are being pitched by the institution as places for “social celebrations,” including bar and bat mitzvahs.

The new spaces, which are light-filled and connected to outdoor patios and gardens, are clearly connected to his earlier work. Beginning with the groundbreaking “Habitat” he designed for Montreal’s Expo ’67—the residential community of stacked, prefabricated, concrete blocks that eventually put him on the cover of Newsweek when he was 33—to his cathedral like tower of glass and steel entry way in the National Gallery of Canada, and the wall of glass reading area of his Salt Lake City public library, architectural models on display demonstrate how light is the central theme of Safdie’s work.

According to Donald Albrecht, the Skirball show’s curator who wrote the accompanying book, “Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie,” Safdie’s “language of transcendent light, powerful geometric form, and metaphoric imagery produces building that are ceremonial and uplifting.”

“I’m a light maniac,” admitted Safdie. “Light is central. Light is our wellbeing. Light is nourishing. Deprivation of light is a very bad thing for us,” he added.

But according to Albrecht, Safdie also has detractors. They see him as an architect whose “grand forms seem bombastic, his contextual references ersatz, his metaphors too facile,” wrote Albrecht.

For example, Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum has been labeled by some as “too theatrical and too optimistic,” according to Albrecht. Nonetheless, the museum for which Safdie felt an “extraordinary responsibility” has become a must-see of Israel.

The design is a long triangular, mostly underground structure that cuts across Yad Vashem’s hillside. According to the show’s text, visitors walk through a “dimly lit narrow space tracing the development of Nazism and the horrors of the Holocaust,” that eventually opens onto a panoramic sunlit view of Israel.

Many of Safdie’s project drawings are also on display. “We use a computer all the time, but it doesn’t substitute for sketching,” said Safdie. “My sketches are essential to the process; I can’t think on a computer,” he said.

He also uses Legos. “I used them to make Habitat,” said Safdie, who noted that Lego had transformed his three-towered fantasy, Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore, into an architecture set of the interlocking plastic blocks.

Considering that Safdie is an architect whose projects have been built under various governments, and in countries with miniscule Jewish populations like Bangladesh, or Beijing—or even a Muslim country like Dubai, where he completed plans for mosque (not built)—he has never experienced anti-Semitism. “I have never felt it my career,” said Safdie.

Speaking about the future of the profession, Safdie, who has also taught at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, felt that students of architecture “underestimate what they need to do.”

“They think it’s all one design party, but it’s not,” he said. Safdie estimated that design represents only 20 percent of the time he spends on projects, the rest being spent on translating a concept to reality and “dealing with the world.”

Despite Safdie’s success—both he and his work are even on Canadian postage stamps—he generally sees his profession as “underpaid and under-rewarded.” But he still encourages those who are passionate about architecture to go into the field.

“If it gives you satisfaction, it’s wonderful,” he said. “There are great rewards.”

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    “Girls” creator Lena Dunham responded on Tuesday to charges of antisemitism over an article she had penned for the New Yorker, saying it was all in good humor. Speaking to Variety, Dunham reflected on her “tight-knit Jewish family, where Jew jokes were part of the essential fiber of our communication.” The article Dunham referred to was called “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz,” with options such as “He doesn’t Tip” and “He’s Crazy for Cream Cheese.” Among Dunham’s critics, Anti-Defamation [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Retired NBA player Keyon Dooling tweeted a link on Wednesday to a wildly antisemitic article that accuses Jews of seizing control of the world’s media and using it to promote their own interests. The article, published by an obscure blog in April 2013, highlights six companies it claims are owned by Jews — such as Time Warner, Inc. and the Walt Disney Company – that allegedly “control 96 percent of the world’s media.”  The post includes allegations of “Jewish control” and says [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    New York Giants offensive guard Geoff Schwartz responded to an outcry from Jewish fans on Tuesday, saying he will go ahead and play in the season opener despite the fact that it falls on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. “Keep getting tweets about that being the first night of Rosh Hashanah… Don’t know what I’m supposed to tell you. It’s a tough break,” the Jewish athlete wrote, referring to the Giants’ on-the-road game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Sept. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    JNS.org – When David Blatt was hired as head coach of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers last June, he was not often recognized when he walked the streets of downtown Cleveland. What a difference a year makes. Now, Blatt can go few places without being recognized. For good reason. The Jewish coach has the Cavaliers in the mix to win the city of Cleveland’s first championship in a major sport since the Browns won the National Football League title in [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    A Hebrew tattoo sported by Croatian soccer star Mario Mandzukic became an internet sensation in Israel after it was exposed on Tuesday during a Champions League match between Ateltico Madrid and Real Madrid A first glance, the tattoo, on the athlete’s back, might leave one with the impression that it was an unfortunate artistic mistake, since the Hebrew letters do not make sense as they are written. However, a closer look at the tattoo shows that it was actually written [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    For the past two years, I have served as Opinion Editor at The Algemeiner. I’m perhaps most proud of the paper’s commitment to publishing diverse and opposing viewpoints on the controversial issues of the day. We pride ourselves on voicing different opinions because we know that most issues are not black and white, and because our community is better served by a public debate. In my life outside of the paper, I am a professional actor and playwright. And similarly, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    JNS.org – “Risk: The Game of Strategic Conquest,” the classic Parker Brothers board game, requires imperial ambitions. Players imagine empires and are pitted against each other, vying for world domination. Amid this fictional world war, beginners learn fast that no matter the superiority of their army, every advance is a gamble determined by a roll of the dice. After a defeat, a player must retreat. Weighted reinforcement cards provide the only opportunity to reverse a player’s fortunes and resume the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Sports Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    JNS.org – For Daphna Krupp, her daily workout (excluding Shabbat) at the Jewish Community Center (JCC or “J”) of Greater Baltimore has become somewhat of a ritual. She not only attends fitness classes but also engages with the instructors and plugs the J’s social programs on her personal Facebook page. “It’s the gym and the environment,” says Krupp. “It’s a great social network.” Krupp, who lives in Pikesville, Md., is one of an estimated 1 million American Jewish members of more [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.