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The rise and rise of the skyscraper

Libeskind: "Cities are the greatest creations of humanity."



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Daniel Libeskind

(CNN) -- CNN talks to Freedom Tower architect Daniel Libeskind about a high-rise building boom.

CNN: A few years ago the skyscraper seemed to have become a very tired 20th century symbol. But now there has been a resurgence of interest in iconic high-rise buildings.

Daniel Libeskind: Absolutely. Skyscrapers have to do with the modern way of living. They have certain ecological benefits because you can open the space around them and create a density rather than just covering a city with an endless set of buildings. And of course there is also the aspiration to build high and to create a new profile for a city, That has always been part of the history of architecture, whether it was building a beautiful medieval tower, or a church or a dome. People have always used architecture to create an identity.

CNN: So are we going to see a new race to build the world's tallest skyscraper?

DL: Certainly, because beyond the sheer necessity to build high-rise buildings there is almost a spiritual quest to build high, to compete technologically, and also to create an emblem that is very visible and significant in the skyline. What would New York be without the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building? They define the character of ambition.

CNN: Is technology making it easier and safer to create and construct these epic-scale buildings?

DL: We've learned a lot and technologies have made it easier now to go beyond the formulaic skyscraper, so it's no longer just a box with an ending. We can begin to shape the space, both the public space on the outside and the internal space for the people working or living so that we can create unique buildings. Originally you had to have a certain rationality, to repeat things, but now we can do things that allow for individual expression. We're not restricted by conformity to that 19th century tower idea. There is a contemporary desire to express things in a more sculpted way, in a more individual way, and we have the technological capacity now to achieve that.

CNN: Are buildings going to become more expressionist, then, in the next few decades?

DL: Maybe I wouldn't use the word expressionist, but certainly the idea that humanity is driven by some ideological imperative, that some system is being asserted, will fall apart. People will want to assert their own freedoms, their own expressions of how they want to live, how they want to work, and I think that is going to have an incredible effect on the skyline. The old idea of the city as a conformity of masses is changing because people are empowered now to express their own lives in the architecture they're building.

CNN: When you talk about iconic structures, you think of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Big Ben in London and New York's skyscrapers. Is there going to be a new age of landmark buildings?

DL: Absolutely. There is a competitiveness to create something remarkable, to give people something that is not just what they are used to. And I think that is certainly going to shape the skyline in the next decade and more.

CNN: As an architect, do you feel a sense of responsibility for the future?

DL: If one is aware of sustainability and that one cannot just exploit the world and create fantasies then one must take responsibility for what one is doing on every level. So if you build a great piece of architecture then it's got to be sustainable. In fact, sustainable buildings were built hundreds of years ago and we still admire them and love them. The best sustainability is good materials, great ideas, something that is civic in its nature, and something that contributes to people, not just those who occupy the tower but those who are on the streets around it.

CNN: You're obviously an advocate of urban living. But others believe we are all going to move to the countryside and connect with the world via a computer.

DL: Cities are the greatest creations of humanity. They are where things are at. People are rediscovering and re-appreciating the importance of cities and the importance not just to exploit the countryside but also to enjoy the relationship between an architecturally creative metropolis and nature, rather than just covering the world with endless suburbs. I think there's something also ancient in the appreciation that culture, opportunity, economic and cultural evolution come from a certain interaction of individuals and cities are an expression of that force. Cities are expanding all over the world. Where you have real creativity, you have the expansion of cities.

-- New York-based architect Daniel Libeskind's 1,776-foot Freedom Tower will be built on the site of the former World Trade Center in Manhattan.

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