Architect Daniel Libeskind Will Redesign the Tree of Life Synagogue and Memorialize Victims of the 2018 Deadly Mass Shooting

Studio Libeskind was also the master architect chosen to rebuild the World Trade Center.

The Tree of Life sanctuary windows will be preserved. Photo by S.M. Riemer.
The Tree of Life sanctuary windows will be preserved. Photo by S.M. Riemer.

More than two years after a gunman shot and killed 11 worshipers during Shabbat service at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, architect Daniel Libeskind will redesign the building, both as a way to commemorate the victims and to restore it as a place of worship.

“When my parents, survivors of the Holocaust, and I came as immigrants to America, we felt an air of freedom as Jews in this country,” Libeskind said in a statement. “That is why this project is not simply about ‘Never Again.’ It is a project that must address the persistence of antisemitism and the intolerance of our time and affirm the democratic values of our country.”

Studio Libeskind, which is based in New York, was selected after the synagogue interviewed a dozen firms. It will collaborate on the project—which is part of the synagogue’s “Remember, Rebuild, Renew” campaign—with Rothschild Doyno Collaborative of Pittsburgh.

Libeskind, who designed the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa, has experience responding to traumatic events through architecture. He also served as masterplan architect at New York’s World Trade Center site as the city looked to rebuild following 9/11.

Daniel Libeskind. Photo by J Grassi, ©Patrick McMullan.

Daniel Libeskind. Photo by J Grassi, ©Patrick McMullan.

“We are beyond thrilled that somebody of his reputation and caliber sought us out and applied to do this,” Barb Feige, Tree of Life’s executive director, told Religion News Service. “His connection is personal, as are most of ours.”

In the wake of the Twin Towers’ destruction, opinions as to how best to respond to the terrorist attacks at the Ground Zero site varied widely. Similarly, the Tree of Life community was divided over whether to continue using the synagogue for services. Two of the three congregations that worshipped there have opted to relocate.

“The same range, spectrum of emotions, ran through that [World Trade Center] project,” Libeskind told the New York Times. “Many groups, competing groups with different emotions. You know, ‘Raze everything.’ ‘Rebuild even bigger, even taller.’ ‘Rebuild exactly the Twin Towers.’ ‘Don’t build anything for the next 30 years.’”

Police tape and memorial flowers are seen on October 28, 2018 outside the Tree of Life Synagogue after a shooting there left 11 people dead in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images.

Police tape and memorial flowers are seen on October 28, 2018 outside the Tree of Life Synagogue after a shooting there left 11 people dead in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images.

The synagogue’s renovation plans call for rebuilding much of the campus, creating classrooms, a communal space, and a Hall of Memories memorializing the victims of the attack. There will also be a space for the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh to host exhibitions and public programs.

The 58-year-old synagogue’s best-known feature, its Hunt Stained Glass Studios-designed windows in the sanctuary, which are currently undergoing restoration, will be preserved.

“Our new and reimagined space will not only serve the needs of our congregation, but will offer an open space to our neighbors and the broader community—here in Pittsburgh, across the country and around the world,” said Tree of Life Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers in a statement. “The space will be welcoming and accessible for people of all abilities and backgrounds, offering safe and secure places to learn, cultivate partnerships, remember and reflect.”


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