Last Friday, a group of architects from the center of the country made their way up Mount Carmel to the new Munio Gitai Weinraub Museum of Architecture. The term museum is a bit big for the modest, 120-square-meter space, but it will fill a cultural vacuum - the lack of an architecture museum in Israel. The Weinraub is the first.
This project, the brainchild of Weinraub's son, film director Amos Gitai, was built together with the Haifa municipality and Haifa museums. It opened in a space that was once the office of architect Munio Gitai Weinraub and is still owned by the family.
Over the years the space, in the heart of the Central Carmel neighborhood, was rented out to different tenants and most recently housed a nightclub. Following a decision by the family a year ago, the space was donated to Haifa Museums and is itself being converted into a museum.
Weinraub (1909-1970 ) studied architecture at the legendary Bauhaus school in Dessau and immigrated to Israel in 1934 after anti-Jewish sanctions in Germany worsened. He chose to settle in Haifa and remained there for the rest of his life. Three years after his arrival, the partnership between him and architect Alfred Mansfeld was created, and for 22 years they designed public institutions, educational and religious institutions, kibbutzim, industrial buildings and thousands of housing units in public housing complexes. They designed the large Ramat Hadar complex, and parts of the Holocaust and Heroism monument at Yad Vashem. After the partnership dissolved, Weinraub embarked on a solo career and lectured in the Technion on architecture.
The look of Haifa
"Weinraub was one of Israel's leading architects and he influenced how the entire city of Haifa looked," says Nissim Tal, director-general of the Haifa Museums. "The museum, which will focus on local as well as national elements, will give the city an added touch, and will join the array of Haifa museums that are nationwide attractions." Weinraub's illustrious legacy has in recent years gained recognition thanks to a thick monograph written in his honor, as well as several exhibitions. The eponymous museum will now serve as the permanent home of the archive of his works, alongside topical exhibitions that will change every six months.
The first exhibition is called, "Architectures of Memory" and it seeks to establish a dialogue between Amos Gitai's filmmaking and the architectural legacy of his father and his compatriot Bauhaus graduates in Israel. It features different media alongside sketches, photos and texts read aloud and screened on some of the walls, along with video clips from Gitai's films. Gitai himself is the curator and he reveals that he also felt disconnected from this small group of Bauhaus artists and architects in Israel. "They had a considerable impact because Bauhaus focused on industry and not just on design. They realized already then that architecture was entering a new phase in the modern era, and their job was to accompany it."
The desire to open an architecture museum in the city, he says, is a result of the sense of contemporary architecture having lost its way. "The successful architects today create architecture that is very representative. Sometimes I think that the architects are a little jealous of us directors, because they create images. For me, good architecture is not just images; it is creating a space where it is pleasant to be. However, it seems that items on display in the current exhibition connect with the space to form a total entity, something that is expected of an architecture museum."
Impressive wide-framed reproductions of Weinraub's sketches hang on the walls, but the medium of film, thanks to its power, provides stiff competition for visitors' attention. The cinematic element, Gitai hopes, will draw additional audiences, such as those attending the international film festival opening in another week across the road, which will sharpen the dialogue between architecture and cinema.
Gitai, whose own training is in architecture, finds many shared characteristics in these two disciplines: "Unlike painting or writing, the disciplines here are not intimate ones. If you don't know how to work with a group of people, you can't function." Even as a child, the way his father worked with professionals at building sites left an impression: "He really wanted the workers to understand the architecture. I realized that it's not enough to sit in your office, sketch nicely with charcoal and create documents that people like to see. As a result, the films I make don't revolve around the script: They are a combination of designers, costumes and photographers."
He argues that architectural space also plays a role, and in the case of the new museum, he believes it will add another dimension to the understanding of the exhibitions gathered there. The place was converted into a museum under the supervision of architect Carmit Harnik-Saar of Efrat-Kowalsky Architects. Harnik-Saar says the work entailed scraping the walls and exposing the original concrete structure beneath the additions made over time. However, she explains, this is not a straight-forward preservation project, and the original tiled floors that were removed over the years were intentionally replaced with new ones of a different shade.
The entrance to the building is through a small crumbling alcove that Weinraub once used as a Japanese seaweed garden, and today is notable for its miserable appearance. Alongside the building is a broad balcony with a view to the east of Ramat Hadar and the surrounding buildings turn their neglected backs to it. Gitai sees poetic justice in the neglect of the public space and adds: "This abuse, where everyone puts up the air conditioners and obstructs the view with blocks - I intended people to see it. As opposed to the inner space, which is carefully designed and well-tended, on the outside people throw things out. In this space, which is not large, every gesture is thought out."
Gitai: No apologies
The museum also has a small gallery level to provide a storage area, and there it will be possible to look at the archive by appointment. In addition, there is a small library that is to be filled slowly with donations from architects. Next to the exhibition, catalogs from the current exhibition, "Carmel," are on sale as well as booklets with architectural texts that go with the exhibitions. Gitai vehemently rejects the problems that may arise from the dedication of a public museum to a private individual. "We are donating this space in order to see how it will work together with the city," he says. "If people have objections, they are invited to create better things themselves." Six months from now, the current exhibition will be replaced by a tribute to architect Moshe Gerstel, to be curated by architect Walid Karkabi, head of Haifa municipality's conservation unit. Other planned exhibitions include one on architecture without architects that will feature models from around the world, and an exhibition on Itzhak Danziger and Avital Geva, about the landscaped space they create in their work as artists. The subjects for exhibitions are chosen by the museum, which also plans to organize conferences on its premises in collaboration with the Architects Association. Also within the general outline for coming exhibitions are plans to show the final projects of Israeli architecture school students.
Gitai notes that until now, Haifa's attitude toward its architectural assets was purely functional. He hopes that building the museum there will give the city added value, which despite the two local architecture schools, at the Technion and Wizo Haifa, did not manage to position itself in the center of the national architectural discourse.
"I think the idea is to expand the perception of what architecture is and that it is the built-up surroundings and not just designed objects. I think the Israeli environment is a little irritating and likewise the efforts to design it," says Gitai. He adds that so far, reactions to the museum's creation have been quite enthusiastic, mostly from people outside the city who were surprised to hear that this would be the first museum of architecture in Israel.
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