Architecture speaks. It tells stories. It screams emotions. Sometimes soft, sometimes loud. For Carla Swickerath, leading lady at the renowned architectural firm Libeskind, the beauty of the profession lies in striking the perfect balance. "Architecture is rational and emotional at the same time. That is precisely why it is so powerful. At Studio Libeskind, we don't make any distinction between the two."
Does that approach make your work unique?
"Here we unanimously believe that architecture transcends its technical, rational aspects. Architecture only really does its job when it speaks to the human soul. Every project needs that emotional link, be it with accidental passers-by or visitors ... For us, it is crucial that both sides are interwoven."
Is it hard to forge that personal connection?
"Creating emotion starts with empathy. We are a listening ear that really tries to understand the culture, as well as the sense and feeling of a place and its people. For me, designing is easier if I can really immerse myself in it. That way, I don't lose sight of the bigger picture." "Conveying emotions is a bit like gymnastics. It's one big balancing act."
Does it get easier with experience or do you rely mainly on your gut feeling?
"That's hard to say. Much of my work is intuitive and it's important to be open to that. As the mother of a little girl, I do believe that everyone has it in them to follow their intuition. We all have the ability to appreciate the unknown and find recognition at a level that transcends language. On the other hand, you don't stop to think about the way you work. You just do it."
Is expressing emotion through architecture difficult for places that already have strong emotional notions, or does emotional history make it easier?
"Take the emotional drama linked to Ground Zero, for example. There, emotion is everywhere, so in a way it's also more accessible. The downside is that the challenge is all the greater because you have to be much more sensitive. It's important to translate that direct emotional bond into your design. You also feel responsible for reflecting that feeling in the right way, especially for the people who have a direct connection with the site."
How do you start such a big project?
"It's a great honour to take responsibility for a project of such magnitude, where you also immediately feel the tragedy and trauma. That's why we always start from the human point of view. The World Trade Center building doesn't just affect the people of New York or America, it affects the whole world. "Design is always about adventure.”
That's not easy, it seems to me…
“Certainly not. In the case of the World Trade Center, there were many different opinions. There is hardly ever just one story or one opinion. So you try to find a solution that balances all those voices to a certain extent. That's where the success of the project lies. The complexity of those interactions is part of our creative process. It's one big balancing act, a bit like gymnastics.”
Is it sometimes overwhelming to experience those emotions every day?
"Not really. It's inspiring for me. I want to create buildings that leave an impact, that make a difference where they are built. That's how I touch people's lives. That's why I like my job so much. No two projects are the same. Architecture and the emotion that results from it challenge you to be open to adventure. To dive into the unexpected and surrender to what's to come.