Appreciating New York City: How to Find the Magic in the Chaos

Architect Daniel Libeskind on seeing the Urban Jungle from a new point of view.

If you’re doing a tour of the city, do it during rush hour. Take the subway then and you’ll really see the democratic idea of New York. You’ll see the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich, with their shiny briefcases, huddled in the same space. I live in Tribeca and work near Ground Zero, and I walk to work every day. But on a day off, my ritual is to take the subway to a stop that I haven’t been to for quite a while and just walk. If you’ve been to the East Side, go to the West Side. If you’ve been to the West Side, go to the north, and you’ll see that all of New York is interesting. I’ve recently walked in the Bronx on the Grand Concourse, near the Bronx Museum. How interesting that area has become again!

To me, I look at New York in terms of its public spaces and the topography of the area that rises and falls. This isn’t obvious when you look at a map. It’s not a city like all the others, where you search for a masterpiece here and there, each isolated from the rest. It’s the assembly of all the buildings together that makes them gorgeous. Even the terrible condominiums built by schlock architects suddenly look good in the light of New York; they’d look horrible anywhere else. New York’s density of construction, imagination, and planning have given each building a special place in this sea of wonders. It’s not a destination city; it’s a field of discovery.


Courtesy Joana Avillez

Even Brooklyn, where my daughter, Rachel, and her husband live. She’s an artist. I had never spent much time there, and now, suddenly, I’m going there all the time. What an amazing place. I now understand why so many people are moving there. I can appreciate the architecture there because of how crazy it is that just a few minutes from the tallest buildings in the world and from the busiest streets of Manhattan, you’re surrounded by rickety, two-story houses where artists are painting and sculpting. I mean, what other place has this kind of craziness? It’s madness. There’s no logic to it. Mark my words: That part of Brooklyn on the water, which has no connection by subway, will one day be the mecca of the rich and powerful, because it’s just so beautiful.

Daniel Libeskind was the master plan architect for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center’s site in Lower Manhattan.

 

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