THE celebrated architect who has been recruited to design the conflict resolution centre at the Maze has said he wants the building to bring people together, but conceded that he did not believe the project would be easy.
Polish/American architect Daniel Libeskind was behind the Jewish museum in Berlin and is also overseeing the Ground Zero project in New York at the site of the Twin Towers atrocity.
There was a minute’s silence at the start of the press conference yesterday in memory of the 2,983 people who died in New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania in the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Mr Libeskind said he was usually in New York for the September 11 anniversary
“As the master planner I am always there on the date, but this project is of special importance to me and it shares with my work at Ground Zero certain characteristics,” he said.
“It’s about how to move a place forward that has had a history, how to take a memory and make it positive, how to create consensus in a site that has many different voices, how to really create a 21st century place, a community that can share one goal and a common future.
“This is a very important project to me. Northern Ireland is close to my heart, us New Yorkers know much about it as do Europeans and other people around the world. I consider that the many days spent here listening to the reference groups that have been formed were especially meaningful.
“It’s not a project that can just be designed out of previous projects, a project of this sort has never existed. This is a unique first in the world, a peace-building and conflict centre right here on this site with its many layers of history is an unprecedented effort. I heard incredible voices from many different walks of life.
“Before a building can be built it is about people, people’s lives, people’s memories and the future of the community.
“It shares that same depth of emotion and spirit that my work at Ground Zero.”
Mr Libeskind had visited the Maze site several times before yesterday. He admitted the project was not going to be easy and said he felt the weight of history on his shoulders as he took it on.
He said: “This is not something that is easy, one has to really feel it. It’s beyond historical data and the archives that one is familiar with, beyond the pictures, films, books and voices of witnesses. One has to really embody that sense of what the place is about and how can we move emotions and ideas forward given a history that is complex.”
Mr Libeskind also told the News Letter that as an architect he is an optimist and that he believes buildings can help to heal.
“You can never be a pessimist as an architect, and I do believe that buildings can bring people together,” he said.
Mr Libeskind was engaged for the project by local firm McAdam Design.
John Findlay from the company said: “We recognised that if we were to meet the aims of the project to provide a ‘shared facility’ for all our communities and also one of ‘international renown’ then we would require a designer with gravitas.
“We were delighted when Daniel Libeskind agreed to partner with us on this exciting project. With Daniel’s experience within the field of conflict resolution, and as one of the world’s leading architects, he will give this building the ‘wow’ factor that will make it of international significance.”
Maze Development Corporation chairman Terence Brannigan said that all stakeholders have been involved so far, including the Prison Service, victims, survivors, police, ex-prisoners and academics.
“This has been instrumental in shaping what the centre will offer and indeed what it will look like,” he said.
“The centre will be ambition based around international exchange and conflict resolution, research, education and conferencing.”
The Maze Long Kesh Development Corporation will be responsible for securing the regeneration of the 347-acre former airfield and prison site.
The Royal Ulster Agricultural Society is set to hold its annual Balmoral Show on the site next May, while the conflict transformation centre is due to be finished by 2015.
However, some unionists remain opposed to the centre.
Former Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott wrote on his Twitter page: “Mr Brannigan said conflict transformation centre would not be a shrine to terrorists. Then I await the demolition of prison buildings.”
TUV leader Jim Allister insisted that the centre will promote a “distorted view of Northern Ireland’s history which glorifies the terrorists who were confined within its walls”.
He said: “Sinn Fein have been quite open about their plans for the Maze. Former IRA prison leader Raymond McCartney has boasted that the ‘listed and retained buildings’ ... will be open to the public. There will be the opportunity for the many stories of the gaol to be told.
“I have, therefore, no doubt that the plans for the Maze are designed to make it iconic and a world first. But the sad truth is that the Maze will promote to the world a distorted view of Northern Ireland’s history which glorifies the terrorists who were confined within its walls.
“If the Maze project really was about the future and not the past as Mr Brannigan claims why are the H-blocks being preserved?”
Victims’ group Fair, along with others, are planning a protest at the gates of the Maze Prison at 7.30pm tomorrow in opposition to plans for the conflict transformation centre.