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Design row over Daniel Libeskind's Maze peace-building centre in Northern Ireland

As the man behind Berlin’s Jewish Museum and several other conflict-inspired buildings, Daniel Libeskind seemed a natural choice to redevelop the notorious Maze Prison.


Published 10/05/2013

Artist's impression of how the Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre at the Maze near Lisburn will look
Artist's impression of how the Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre at the Maze near Lisburn will look
Artist's impression of how the Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre at the Maze near Lisburn will look
Artist's impression of how the Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre at the Maze near Lisburn will look
Artist's impression of how the Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre at the Maze near Lisburn will look
Daniel Libeskind, who is working with McAdam Design to oversea the construction of the Peace-building and Conflict Resolution Centre. Mr Libeskind had previously been awarded the role of master planner for the Ground Zero site in New York and also the Jewish Museum in Berlin
Organisers of the development of the former Maze prison hope for 100 million pounds investment in the site by 2016
Aerial view of the Maze Prison 18/7/2000
First Minister Peter Robinson (left) and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (right) with Chairman of the corporation behind the development of the Maze site, Terence Brannigan, at a photocall during a press preview on the site of the former Maze prison
Former Maze prison buildings, including the hospital block where hunger strikers died, are being retained but will not form part of the peace centre
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 19/9/98: An IRA prisoner in his cell in H8 block at the Maze prison. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
Marquee foundations at the new site for the Balmoral Show have been made from remnants of Maze Prison
The transformation of the Maze prison site could create 5,000 jobs, the deputy First Minister said
IRA prisoners on hunger strike, November 1980
Weapons found at the Maze Prison, 20 January 1972
Flames are seen coming from the Maze Prison on 16 October 1974, after rioting inmates set fire to the building. More than 130 inmates were injured
A soldier stands watch outside the Maze Prison, 2 January 1972

Daniel Libeskind's design for the new peace centre at the former Maze prison site near Lisburn, which is due to open in 2015, was a typically spiky, angular affair, as is the Polish-born architect’s wont.

To the untrained eye his £18m proposals for the Maze, which were approved last month, appear rather similar to his other war-oriented constructions, which, for the most part, are concerned with the Holocaust and the Second World War.

The plans have now sparked a row in the architecture world amid claims that Mr Libeskind has failed to reflect the unique complexities and nuances of the The Troubles, with particular regard to what happened on the site where 10 Republican hunger strikers died in 1981.

In an opinion piece for The Architects’ Journal, deputy editor Rory Olcayto wrote: “Now that Libeskind has become the go-to architect for clients seeking buildings that commemorate tragic events, there is a sense he believes all conflicts are much the same.”

He added: “The problem is, unlike the Holocaust ... there’s no consensus on much that happened during Northern Ireland’s long sectarian war.”

The criticisms prompted an immediate response from Libeskind, 66, who wrote a letter to the magazine insisting he had engaged with the conflict in Northern Ireland.

“The design concept for the PbCRC [Peace-building and Conflict Resolution Centre] evolved after extensive engagement with key stakeholders who were subsequently formed into six reference groups,” he wrote.

“I did not say that the design of the Centre should reflect any particular group’s story. I listened extensively to the multiple perspectives presented and what I said was, ‘All stories should be told’, which has been everyone’s goal from the start.”

The disagreement follows the broader criticism of Mr Libeskind’s work that it all looks the same.

It was his design for the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which opened in 2001, that propelled him to fame in the realm of  architecture. He has since designed The Military History Museum at Nuremberg, Germany, and the UK’s Imperial War Museum North.

But his immediately recognisable style, which has won admiration for its representation of war and conflict, has also been deployed on a range of casinos and residential developments, including apartment blocks in Singapore and shopping centres in Las Vegas and Switzerland.

The British architect Piers Gough of CZWG said that Mr Libeskind is no worse than any other great architect, when it comes to repetition, though: “‘Variations on a theme’ is how you put it,” he said.

“The world is vast, it’s huge. It’s not like we’re overburdened with Danny Libeskind buildings. All great artists plagiarise themselves. I wish Danny Libeskind was more prolific.”

Daniel Libeskind's designs

  • Bord Gáis Energy Theatre and Grand Canal development, Dublin
  • Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
  • Museum of Military History, Dresden
  • Crystals retail  complex, Las Vegas
  • Westside shopping centre, Bern

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