The Kabbalistic Alphabet of Libeskind: The Motif of Letter-shaped Windows in the Design of the Jewish Museum in Berlin
Languages of publication
The present article attempts to analyse and interpret the structure of windows in the Jewish Museum in Berlin, designed by Daniel Libeskind and constructed in 1989–1999. Elongated, narrow, irregular window openings arranged at different angles like a tangle of cuts and grooves span the entire structure and resemble Hebrew letters and the kabbalistic notion of the “scattered alphabet”, which functions in Jewish tradition as a visual metaphor. The assumption of such a perspective of interpretation, based on the visual form of the building which was, in its principle, meant to partially refer to the Holocaust, leads to the hypothesis that the chosen motifs of letter-shaped windows (the scattered alphabet) is connected to the kabbalistic postulate of the “repair of the world”, known in Jewish tradition as tikkun olam. The characteristic chaotic arrangement of the window openings is not, as it might be assumed, simply a symbol of the civilisational “fragmentation” resulting from the Holocaust. On the contrary, the design manifestly embodies the nostalgia for the mythical (and messianic) times of harmony, order and regularity, as well as the longing for clear structure and symbiosis. This manifests in the kabbalistic interpretation of the motif of letter-windows understood as a mystical (or even theurgical) element of restoration. Concentration, contemplation, perception and consideration of the forms and shapes of the letters is a notion known from the Kabbalah; in this case architectural references to Jewish mysticism are more than just a strategy for interpretation, but a declarative assumption made by the architect himself. Libeskind’s design in Berlin, therefore, involves the matter of language as the elementary material and instrument of salvation, while the context of the Kabbalah ought to be regarded as a certain symptom or a specific modality shaping new meanings manifested by the work of art that this museum undoubtedly is.
Publication order reference