Daniel Libeskind Discusses Creating Rockefeller Center’s Christmas Tree Star
Christmas in New York City is always a magical time of the year. Hundreds of thousands descend upon the city to shop for the perfect holiday gifts, marvel at the magnificent window displays, and—of course—view the incredible Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. The 77-foot-tall Norway spruce set up in the plaza is adorned with a Swarovski crystal topper by Daniel Libeskind. Studded with 70 spikes boasting more than three million Swarovski crystals, the 900-pound star debuted atop last year’s tree in what was the first redesign of the star since 2004.
In advance of the tree-lighting ceremony on Wednesday, December 4, Galerie editor in chief Jacqueline Terrebonne spoke to Libeskind about the process of creating the star as well as upcoming projects.
Do you put up your own tree for Christmas?
I don’t put up a tree, but I have the big tree right here. Who has not been at Rockefeller Center during this season? It seems like everybody in the world comes here. This is still the quiet time, but there will be a moment when it’s so packed that you won’t be able to move.
How large is the star?
The star is immense—it’s almost a ton in weight. I was inspired by the way stars themselves are composed. They have a core and out of it comes radiating bursts of light, and that’s exactly how the star is designed.
As an architect, were you surprised that Swarovski asked you to redesign the star in 2018?
I was not surprised because a star is really like a building. My idea of the star was that it should be seen the same way from any perspective. A regular star is more two-dimensional or more frontal, but this star you can see from high up, you can see from low down, you can see from faraway streets, and it is always around. It always has that space around it, so it is a beautiful thing to do since my buildings are always spatial.
How did you test it?
Well, we tested it in many ways. First, we had to make physical models, then we did a lot of experiments and discussed it with different experts to make sure we went over all of the technical aspects. So, yes—it has to be engineered, of course.
Will you come by Rockefeller Center once it’s up?
I’m here very often. Of course, who is not? This is the center of New York! Rockefeller Center is the icon of the city. This is the first time I really thought about how many millions of people will look at that star, even if just a glimpse. It has to leave a lasting memory of the beauty of the world, despite all the turbulence and all the acrimony. The star is really about solidarity, peace, and hope. That’s the beauty of the star, and I hope it will never go out of fashion.
How did your experience with light influence the design?
Most people think light is something soft, but it’s actually radically sharp because of the quantum leaps. That’s what produces light and how light works, structurally. My idea of architecture is that it’s about light and about the form of light with different materials. This just happens to be made of crystals.
Do you have a favorite time of the day to view it?
Well, honestly I think it’s beautiful at all times. During the day, in the morning, at night. It’s always so beautiful to look at it.
What buildings are you working on currently?
We have projects on every continent—from Australia to Africa to South America, from New York to Paris and London to Dubai. I mean, it’s really amazing. We are based in New York, but we have partner offices in many of these places, and our own people work on the projects.
What’s in store for 2020?
Next year we have a mega-project in Nice, France. It’s located right in the center of the city and is a radical new idea for the Côte d’Azur, with a program that combines culture, retail, hotels, and offices. It’s growing rapidly. Here in the U.S., we are working on a building for the New York City Housing Authority. I would call it low-cost public housing for the elderly. We also have a housing development in Detroit. I believe that these are very important projects for people who really need architecture. You don’t need to have tons of money to build affordable housing that is beautiful, sustainable, and inspiring for the people who live there.