Wednesday, October 6, 2010

USA: Allison Hoffman on Moshe Safdie and the Institute of Peace on the Washington Mall

USA: Allison Hoffman on Moshe Safdie and the Institute of Peace on the Washington Mall

Allison Hoffman has written a fine article about the Israel-born and Canada-raised architect Moshe Safdie, his new project on the mall in Washington, and the difficulties of architecture in Israel today. I'm quoted, though I am no Safdie expert. Safdie is known for many dramatic (and some now iconic) exterior sculptural building forms. He certainly does have a talent for creative shaping of built form. However, as the new United States Institute of Peace seems (I have not seen it yet) to demonstrate, his other skills are about responding to context - when he must do so - and turning his eye inward.

Master Builder

With his U.S. Institute for Peace set to open in Washington, Israeli-born Moshe Safdie takes his place among the world’s leading architects

By Allison Hoffman

When tourists visit Israel, they are, more often than not, following an itinerary designed by the architect Moshe Safdie. From the grand sloping entrance hall at Ben Gurion airport—lined in golden limestone—to the sweeping vistas at Yad Vashem or the tony shops and cafes in the new Mamilla mall just outside the Old City of Jerusalem, Safdie has been singularly responsible for shaping his native country’s modern landmarks. In Canada, where he lived as a teenager, Safdie is famous as the designer of Habitat, a beehive-like housing complex in Montreal that landed him on the cover of Newsweek in 1971—and, with his shock of white hair and bushy mustache, remains so easily recognizable that customs officers sometimes greet him by name. But in the United States, where Safdie has made his home and career for the past three decades, he remains almost unknown, overshadowed by superstars like Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, and Richard Meier.

Now, though, Safdie is going where his competitors have not: the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where construction is nearly complete on the $186 million headquarters Safdie designed for the United States Institute of Peace. The building, which is next door to the State Department, anchors the far western end of Constitution Avenue opposite the Lincoln Memorial—an unusually prominent site, carved out of a former Navy parking lot, that finally gives Safdie a unique opportunity to leave his mark at the symbolic center of his adopted country. “I have three passports and three citizenships, and feel very much part of all three places,” Safdie said. “But it’s evolved so that the architect of the peace institute is an Israeli. That tickles me nicely.”

Read the entire article here.

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