First Review of Libeskind’s Contemporary Jewish Museum


Daniel Libeskind‘s Contemporary Jewish Museum opens in San Francisco this weekend, as you likely know if you’ve kept up with our coverage of the place on any sort of regular basis. And now the first review of the building has come in. It’s from the LA TimesChristopher Hawthorn and while it starts off really negatively, sounding like the critic is building toward a big thumbs down for the building, surprisingly, it flips around and offers up a glowing review. And it turns out that the purpose of opening with all the stories of woe surrounding Libeskind’s projects, from all the trouble with his new World Trade Center plans to the major cutbacks in creating this very Contemporary Jewish Museum served a purpose: in San Francisco at least, it made him strip down his initial plans and get to the meat of what he was trying to do with the building, which, in Hawthorn’s mind, is a very good thing:

And yet the project also shows Libeskind working in a more restrained, even muted, mode than ever before. In part this is due to various delays and budget problems that have plagued the project, which got its start in 1998, well before Libeskind prevailed in Lower Manhattan. (The San Francisco commission was his first in North America.) In part it’s due to the tight urban site occupied by the museum, which opens onto a new public plaza across the street from Yerba Buena Gardens and down the block from Mario Botta‘s San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Whatever the explanation, the generally happy architectural results are not just surprising but encouraging. At ground zero, Libeskind’s designs were crippled and eventually rendered meaningless by compromise. Here they’ve been enriched by it.