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 ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    An actress starring in the controversial Met Opera The Death of Klinghoffer defended the show on Tuesday by comparing it to the 1993 Holocaust film Schindler’s List, New York Post reported. “To me, this was like [the movie] Schindler’s List. We make art so people won’t forget,’’ said the actress, who plays a captured passenger in the show and asked not to be identified. The Met Opera focuses on the infamous murder of Lower East Side Jewish resident Leon Klinghoffer, 69. The wheelchair-bound father of [...]

    Read more →
  • Analysis Arts and Culture Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    JNS.org – One of the most controversial operas in recent memory, “The Death of Klinghoffer,” debuted Oct. 20 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The Met has scheduled seven more performances through November. The first staging did not occur without protest, as about 400 demonstrators—including Jewish communal and nationally recognized leaders—came to Lincoln Center to denounce the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel opera. “Klinghoffer,” the creation of composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman, premiered in 1991—with few additional stagings. The opera is based [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot is in negotiations to take on the female lead role in the remake of the 1959 classic Ben-Hur, according to The Hollywood Reporter. If the deal is finalized Gadot will play Esther, a slave and Ben-Hur’s love interest. Actor Jack Huston will star as the Jewish prince who is betrayed into slavery by his childhood friend Messala, played by Toby Kebbell. Ben-Hur fights for his freedom and vengeance with the help of Morgan Freeman’s character, who trains Ben-Hur how to win at chariot-racing. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    JNS.org – Baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie are the American dream. So why do two young men who have built their lives in Israel have a GoFundMe crowd-funding webpage with the urgent message that they need $3,000 to travel to the U.S. to watch the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles square off for Major League Baseball’s (MLB) American League championship? Brothers Naftali and Yoni Schwartz, 27 and 25, respectively, are Kansas City natives. Even though they made aliyah with their [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Some 3,000 years ago, King David probably never imagined cars racing at 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) through the ancient capital of the Jewish people. But on Monday and Tuesday, October 6-7, thousands of Israelis lined the streets to watch Porsche, Audi, and Ferrari race cars fly through the capital against the backdrop of the Tower of David, the Old City Walls, and other city landmarks. The second annual non-competitive Jerusalem Formula One Road Show had been [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James expressed interest in visiting Israel someday, local news site Cleveland.com reported on Sunday. Speaking to Israeli reporters before the Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason debut against Maccabi Tel Aviv, the NBA star said he had never visited the Jewish state but “I want to look forward to going there if I get an opportunity to.” When asked by an Israeli reporter if there was “any chance that LeBron James and Cleveland comes to Tel Aviv,” the athlete said [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    A Florida-based Chabad rabbi put former basketball star, U.S. Congressman Curt Clawson to shame on the court when the two faced off one-on-one recently. A YouTube video, posted online on Tuesday, shows Rabbi Fishel Zaklos of Chabad of Naples shooting hoops with the Florida politician, who played basketball in high school and at Purdue University in Indiana. The game took place in the parking lot of the Chabad Jewish center run by Zaklos. During the 1-minute clip, Zaklos scores two impressive [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada David Blatt’s Cleveland Cavaliers Rout Maccabi Tel Aviv, 107-80

    David Blatt’s Cleveland Cavaliers Rout Maccabi Tel Aviv, 107-80

    JNS.org – Less than five months after leading Maccabi Tel Aviv to its sixth European basketball title, David Blatt, now the head coach of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, routed his former team in an exhibition game on Sunday, with the Cavaliers dominating Maccabi 107-80 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The 20,562 fans in attendance witnessed Lebron James’s first appearance in a Cavaliers uniform since he left the club in free agency for the Miami Heat four years ago. [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.