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Libeskind In China:
Lost in the Moral Maze

This week, the focus shifts east, to the metropolis of Wuhan in central China. A new public building, the snappily named ‘Zhang Zhidong and Modern Industrial Museum’, is under construction, and is the first creation in China by a particularly political member of the Starchitect set: Daniel Libeskind.

The piece has a certain sculptural quality: It appears as an outlandish ornament, placed carefully on an urban mantelpiece fringed with perfectly manicured hedges, circled by identical black cars… this is a museum curio to match the artifacts within.

There is no getting away from the fact though, that like the pre-eminent Zaha Hadid,  Libeskind is another perpetrator of ‘Brand’ architecture. Whatever the building’s function may be, and no matter what socio-political context it may emerge within, a Libsekind building conforms to a familiar one-liner: an aggressive, titanium-skinned concrete explosion that yells, “I WILL be an icon of your city! Look at me!”

Hmm, that almost sounds like a dictatorial architectural style… do I smell irony?

Libeskind has argued that, as the project is privately funded, and therefore distanced from the totalitarian regime, this particularly foray into the heart of China is morally acceptable. Most likely, he has listened to his peers on the subject – As Will Alsop succinctly put it, “the choice you have as an architect is, can you help to make a positive change, or do you stay away - in which case the countries are condemned to some terrible architects and nothing moves on.”

Whether Libeskind’s museum constitutes a ‘positive change’ is debatable, but at least he’s remembered whom a country’s cultural buildings actually benefit: The local people, not their autocratic overlords.

Yours democratically,

The Angry Architect