Memorable places give communities competitive edge, Ball State experts say

Topics: College of Architecture and Planning, Miller College of Business

October 23, 2013

Renowned architect Daniel Libeskind
Renowned architect Daniel Libeskind

The world-renowned architect who developed the Ground Zero master plan in New York City will speak at Ball State University on Nov. 4. And his message may surprise you.

Daniel Libeskind will discuss “The Language of Places” — a poetic phrase for a common-sense idea: The design and the creation of memorable places to live, work and play are critical pieces of economic development strategies for communities today.

“People think that design is cosmetic or superfluous to real issues,” says Michel Mounayar, associate dean of Ball State’s College of Architecture and Planning. “But the real message is that design is about health and economic development, life in general and being happy and fulfilled.

“It’s not a cosmetic element; it’s a structural element that will make a community advance and grow stronger.”

Central to that argument is the notion of creating “places” — an important piece of architectural theory and one of the reasons the college invited Libeskind to speak.

When designers discuss “place,” they’re talking about something more than buildings or landscapes, says Guillermo Vasquez de Velasco, dean of the college.

“Creating a ‘place’ goes beyond the structure,” he says. “I’m talking about places of significance that provide experiences — memorable experiences. That’s what Libeskind is going to be talking about.

“His remarks are relevant not only to architects, landscape architects and urban planners, they’re relevant to anyone who experiences places. He will help them understand what is happening when they feel they are in a place that is memorable, that puts them at ease or just makes them happy. Places can do that.”

Libeskind is particularly adept at the alchemy required to create such designs, and he has many on his resume: the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the CityCenter in Las Vegas, the Ascent at Roebling’s Bridge in Covington, Ky., and the Ground Zero site in Manhattan, to name a few.

“We live our life in places, and we want to live in places that are meaningful and delightful, that are supportive and inspiring,” says Mahesh Daas, chairperson of the Department of Architecture.

“That is where Daniel Libeskind comes into play because, as a designer, he is always focused on how a place can embody memory and deep cultural patterns and express them in the physical fabric.”

He keeps the “human factor” foremost in his designs, Daas says, striving for elements that evoke particular emotions.

Bruce Race, associate professor of practice at the College of Architecture and Planning, says courage is part of Libeskind’s appeal, too.

“Libeskind unashamedly combines the fine arts and architecture, exploring creation of beautiful and sometimes controversial objects and spaces,” Race says.

“His buildings are daring and rarely restrained. His projects are expressive, iconic, off-kilter forms, with slanted walls and spaces. He sequentially compresses and opens spaces, creating a unique visitor experience.”

Libeskind also works on the subliminal level, Daas says. “He suggests with structure or light. Rather than putting up a sign that says, ‘I am Ground Zero’ or ‘I represent the Statue of Liberty’s torch,’ he evokes ideas with subtlety. People respond to the figurative, evocative feeling that architecture provides unlike any other medium.”

Creating places that generate a response is more important than ever as communities strive to attract businesses and the top-flight employees they need.

Says Race: “The best cities contain a diversity of well-defined places that are created and preserved by urban designers, architects, urban planners, historic preservationists, and landscape architects.

“Preservation and creation of great places is central to any economic development strategy. They represent a high quality of life that attracts and retains top workers.”

Daniel Libeskind will discuss “The Language of Places” at 7 p.m. Nov. 4 in Pruis Hall on the Ball State University campus. The event is free and open to the public.

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