Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

If I didn't think Maze peace centre was important I wouldn't be here, insists architect who drew plans for Ground Zero

An aerial photo of the Maze in the 1990s
An aerial photo of the Maze in the 1990s

A world-renowned architect behind a peace centre at the former Maze Prison site has said he wants to see the stories of individual prisoners remembered.

Daniel Libeskind, who designed the 5,000 sqm Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre on the site of the former Maze prison, spoke to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday – as political division over the project continued.

Confusion remains over how – or if – the centre will remember 10 men who died during the republican hunger strikes at the prison in 1981.

The £18.1m centre has been designed by Daniel Libeskind, who gained world renown through his work on prestigious projects such as the World Trade Center and Berlin's Jewish Museum.

And the architect hinted that he thought prisoners like hunger striker Bobby Sands should have their stories told through the centre.

Mr Libeskind said he jumped at the chance of being involved in developing a peace centre on a site which saw one of the darkest chapters in Northern Ireland's history and is intrinsically linked with the history of republicanism.

"It's a very important project. I would not have become involved if I did not think it was important. It's about people and a place moving forward into the 21st century," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"The project means a lot to me. The Troubles and the period of the hunger strikes was something that was part of my history.

"I'm very familiar with the Troubles. I was living in London during the height of the Troubles. I remember the bombings. And of course, as a New Yorker, I was very aware of the Troubles. My close friends in New York and around the world are Irish."

Libeskind's designs include Ground Zero in New York, the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the Military History Museum in Dresden – Germany's largest museum – and Dublin's Grand Canal Theatre project.

But Libeskind ranks Northern Ireland's Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre among his most important projects to date.

Amid intensifying political debate about the re-telling of stories of former prisoners, particularly those of the hunger strikers, he said: "I think all stories should be told," he said.

"We saw many individual stories which can never be reduced to a general theme. Each of them is very compelling. We have to pay homage to each individual case. It's not about statistics.

"I think that in itself will bring the past and present and the future together."

He added: "I have worked on Ground Zero and other projects and certainly each of these places has a story to communicate and you have to understand that story.

"I have always believed architecture is a story-telling profession. It has to tell a story that reaches to invisible realities.

"I think to me having a place where people can experience something that is beyond the words but actually brings people together is very important.

"I think the centre will help bring people together and create a shared sense of meaning.

"It will be a real place dealing with what the prison meant for the lives of people in Belfast and Northern Ireland and across the world.

"Whether we were in Belfast or Northern Ireland, we were all part of it," he said.

Profile

Born in post-war Poland, Libeskind emigrated to America with his family, before becoming an American citizen in 1964. The 66-year-old studied music in Israel and New York, becoming a renowned performer before giving it up to study architecture. His designs include Ground Zero in New York, the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the Military History Museum in Dresden and Dublin's Grand Canal Theatre project.

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