AD Classics: Jewish Museum, Berlin / Daniel Libeskind

© Mal Booth

In 1987, the government organized an anonymous competition for an expansion to the original Jewish Museum in that opened in 1933.  The program wished to bring a Jewish presence back to after WWII.  In 1988, Daniel Libeskind was chosen as the winner among several other internationally renowned architects; his design was the only project that implemented a radical, formal design as a conceptually expressive tool to represent the Jewish lifestyle before, during, and after the Holocaust.

The original Jewish Museum in Berlin was established in 1933, but it wasn’t open very long before it was closed during Nazi rule in 1938.  Unfortunately, the museum remained vacant until 1975 when a Jewish cultural group vowed to reopen the museum attempting to bring a Jewish presence back to Berlin.  It wouldn’t be until 2001 when Libeskind’s addition to the Jewish Museum finally opened (completed in 1999) that the museum would finally establish a Jewish presence embedded culturally and socially in Berlin.

© Cyrus Penarroyo

For Libeskind, the extension to the Jewish Museum was much more than a competition/commission; it was about establishing and securing an identity within Berlin, which was lost during WWII.  Conceptually, Libeskind wanted to express feelings of absence, emptiness, and invisibility – expressions of disappearance of the Jewish Culture.  It was the act of using architecture as a means of narrative and emotion providing visitors with an experience of the effects of the Holocaust on both the Jewish culture and the city of Berlin.

The project begins to take its form from an abstracted Jewish Star of David that is stretched around the site and its context. The form is established through a process of connecting lines between locations of historical events that provide structure for the building resulting in a literal extrusion of those lines into a “zig-zag” building form.

© Cyrus Penarroyo

Even though Libeskind’s extenstion appears as its own separate building, there is no formal exterior entrance to the building. In order to enter the new museum extension one must enter from the original Baroque museum in an underground corridor. A visitor must endure the anxiety of hiding and losing the sense of direction before coming to a cross roads of three routes.  The three routes present opportunities to witness the Jewish experience through the continuity with German history, emigration from , and the Holocaust.  Libeskind creates a promenade that follows the “zig-zag” formation of the building for visitors to walk through and experience the spaces within.

From the exterior, the interior looks as if it will be similar to the exterior perimeter; however, the interior spaces are extremely complex.  Libeskind’s formulated promenade leads people through galleries, empty spaces, and dead ends. A significant portion o f the extension is void of windows and difference in materiality.  The interior is composed of reinforced concrete which reinforces the moments of the empty spaces and dead ends where only a sliver of light is entering the space. It is a symbolic gesture by Libeskind for visitors to experience what the Jewish people during WWII felt, such that even in the darkest moments where you feel like you will never escape, a small trace of light restores hope.

© Cyrus Penarroyo

One of the most emotional and powerful spaces in the building is a 66’ tall void that runs through the entire building. The concrete walls add a cold, overwhelming atmosphere to the space where the only light emanates from a small slit at the top of the space.  The ground is covered in 10,000 coarse iron faces. A symbol of those lost during the Holocaust; the building is less of a museum but an experience depicting what most cannot understand.

Libeskind’s extension leads out into the Garden of Exile where once again the visitors feel lost among 49 tall concrete pillars that are covered with plants.  The overbearing pillars make one lost and confused, but once looking up to an open sky there is a moment of exaltation. Libeskind’s Jewish Museum is an emotional journey through history.  The architecture and the experience are a true testament to Daniel Libeskind’s ability to translate human experience into an architectural composition.

© Cyrus Penarroyo

“The Jewish Museum is conceived as an emblem in which the Invisible and the Visible are the structural features which have been gathered in this space of Berlin and laid bare in an architecture where the unnamed remains the name which keeps still.”  – Daniel Libeskind

Architect: Daniel Libeskind
Location: Berlin, Germany
Project Year: 1988-1999 (opened 2001)
Photographs: Mal Booth, Cyrus Penarroyo, Wikicommons

Cite: Kroll, Andrew. "AD Classics: Jewish Museum, Berlin / Daniel Libeskind" 25 Nov 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 18 Sep 2014. <>


  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Great building, the best and beautiful building of Libesking entie work. I really like to visit it, some day.

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      It’s not that great of a building. It is very telling that not a single images in this feature shows the actual gallery space. The galleries are terrible. The detailing is awful. This may be Libeskind’s best design but that doesn’t make it a great building.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    The Garden of Exile and the Holocaust tower are amazing spaces within this building. The Garden of Exile really messes with you because of the slant.

  3. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    I really dislike this building. There are a few interesting places inside of it but overall the design is very sloppy and random. There are many lost spaces because of this. Also the museum itself has very little to offer.

  4. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    A really nice building, a very dramatic experience, only diminished by the collection it contains, probably one of the worst curated museums I have visited, looks more like a bazaar than a museum in some galleries. I heard it was open without collection for 2 years, not sure if it’s true, but i think it must have been quite an experience. Love this section. Cheers.

  5. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    While I like this building, I feel that it fails as a museum as it dominates over the content. I found myself walking around looking at the building rather than the exhibitions inside. I also hate all the mumbo jumbo Libeskind comes out with to unnecessarily justify why the building is the shape it is, why each window is where it is, etc. It’s a good building, but it’s not a classic just yet.

  6. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    how is it not a classic? it has and is achieving some of the same effects and prominence as those we consider classic. everyone considers Gehry’s Bilbao as a magnificent masterpiece when it was only finished two years before this.

    Also as for the museum dominating the exhibition spaces, can we not claim the same thing for Mies’ National Gallery in Berlin, where he placed all the work below ground. Placing architecture above all arts. I think we need to reconsider how we criticize these architects because they don’t stand alone. There are plenty of architects out there that have done and are doing the same thing.

  7. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    Definitely a classic. Why does age come into it? Not entirely sure if Toin has ever visited the building (I doubt it), but efficiency of space is hardly the aim of the building.

    Either way, reading through this article made me realise that different people experience the building in different ways – the Holocaust Towerjust made me think of the gas chambers and the sense of helplessness. Like Josh, I found the slant in the Garden of Exile really disorientating.

    One of the best pieces of architecture I’ve visited (internally anyway).

  8. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    Intellectually it was a dead end. Libeskind subsequently churned out the same disorienting slants and diagonals for every project he was hired for. As a language it all became very meaningless and non-specific. Which all had the effect of causing me to question the sincerity of those forms here. Like most people, I think it was just a gimmick he stumbled upon and has been milking ever since.

  9. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Age is not a prerequisite for something to be a classic. Actually age has nothing to do with it.

    For you people who clearly do not know what the word ‘classic’ means: in architecture it can be used for example for a building that is a model or standard of the style it represents. The museum is clearly an example of Liebeskind’s style and can therefore be a classic. Age and/or subjective opinion about the architecture has nothing to do with being a classic. Ugly things can be classics too :)

  10. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    It’s highly over-rated and very, very pretentious. Libeskind made dubious, arbitrary and completely insupportable claims for the “meaning” of the forms. He went on to repeat those exact same forms ad nauseum for every other project done since, regardless of whether it was a museum, a house or a piece of furniture. In doing so he undermined the purported logic of the forms when used here. In other words, Libeskind himself undermined the validity of this project. Definitely NOT a classic.

  11. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    In my opinion the best design is what the architect want to say by his building and the goal is to reach this piont to you ,so if he success ,he wil be a great arcitect .
    its a great building.

  12. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    befor any one make a comment he shoud read the describtion of the building !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Amazing Building. The inside is truly a place that makes you feel the presence of such a strong history the Museum is built for. The building is very well mapped out internally and the interior spaces and use of light really influenced and manipulated the atmosphere of the each exhibition held. The hallways parallel that of a prison almost as if you were in an concentration camp which is chilling yet understandable memorial to those that were wrongly killed during the Holocaust. The Sculptural garden was also that of a mini memorial to those who lost their lives, cleverly detailed each stone sculpture beside each other linearly throughout the garden. Very good visit. Daniel Liberskind is a great and thoughtful architect. And I enjoy researching this work he has done.

  14. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    when i first read about this building, and looked at its images here, i thought the reasoning for the seemingly arbitrary shape and window slits were simply excuses construed to justify his radical style. However after visiting, I fell in love with it. Not to go into detail, seeing pictures of the space do not do the building justice. One must truly experience Libeskind’s building to understand his mastery of senses and seductive spaces.

  15. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Daniel Libsekind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany gives a strong message to anyone who listens to the building. The modernity of this museum can be seen in Libsekind’s use of Jewish people’s history in Berlin during and after World War II as part of the design and layout of the building and not just in the interior exhibits of artifacts and photos that are displayed inside of the museum. Daniel Libsekind has been able to create an emotional and symbolical experience of grief, despair, and hope as people walk through the museum so that they may relate more closely to the survivors of the holocaust and World War II. The Jewish Museum shows the past, present, and future of Jews throughout Berlin, Germany for generations to come.

  16. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    why there is not any plans and sections?! where can I find it’s plans and sections?

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