Daniel Libeskind was already well known as a designer of modernist, experimental buildings when he won a competition to build the Jewish Museum in Berlin in 1989. There was just one problem: None of his designs had ever been constructed. "You could say I was a late starter," says Libeskind, 56.
Quite a start it was. The design and construction of the Jewish Museum took more than a decade. The building rose by fits and starts on a budgetary drip feed from the financially strapped city of Berlin. Critics carped that the design--a zinc-clad zigzag that has been likened to a deconstructed Star of David--overwhelmed the museum exhibits, which chronicle Jewish history in Europe, including the Holocaust.
Yet when the museum finally opened in September, it won critical acclaim and drew more than half a million visitors in a little over eight months. Its success has transformed Libeskind from an ivory-tower academic into a prolific builder. Many of his projects have a historical aspect: one is a Jewish museum for San Francisco, another is Britain's Imperial War Museum North in Manchester. But he is also designing a Kaufhof department store in Dresden and a shopping center in Bern.
Libeskind, who was born in Lodz, Poland, to Holocaust survivors and became a U.S. citizen in 1965, continues to teach at the College of Design in Karlsruhe, Germany, and at the University of Pennsylvania. He's determined to keep challenging existing ideas through his designs. "In the Talmud, every question that is asked is answered by another question," he says. "It is important to me that the building provokes questions." Judging from the crowds at the Jewish Museum, lots of people are intrigued enough to look for the answers.