Hyperboloids Among the Rectangles

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art has raised nearly enough money to start construction on its new building. Architect Preston Scott Cohen has vowed to stick to the budget.

NEW YORK - Construction of the new Tel Aviv Museum building could get underway within a month or two, now that Paul and Herta Amir have decided to donate $10 million to the project. The Amirs, residents of Los Angeles, made their money in real estate. Paul (Shmuel) Amir, formerly a kibbutz member, came to the United States in the 1950s and achieved economic success on the West Coast. Over the years, he has contributed of his wealth to quite a number of institutions in Israel but has maintained his anonymity. Herta Amir is a leading activist in AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee). Motti Omer, the director of the Tel Aviv Museum, visited New York last week and said that in the wake of the Amirs' donation, the museum had raised $37.5 for the new building. The Tel Aviv Municipality has granted $15 million and the rest comes from donations. They are now working at the museum to raise another $7.5 million for the construction of the building; they believe it will be possible to start construction within a month or two.

As may be recalled, businessman Sami Ofer cancelled a donation of $20 million for the construction of new building in February 2006, after the fierce reaction in Israel to his demand that the museum be named after him and his wife, Aviva.

Making waves

The Amirs funded the competition to plan the new building at the museum. In the past, they contributed to the renovation of the Shrine of the Book exhibit at the Israel Museum.

In the meantime, the new building's plans are making waves in the architecture world. Photographs of the model of the building are on display at the exhibition "Bones + Skin" at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles. The photographs also appear in the exhibition catalogue, which deals with developments in fashion and architecture, the techniques that the two fields share and the reciprocal influences between them.

Preston Scott Cohen, the architect whose proposal won the competition for the plan for the new museum, has told Haaretz that he has almost completed the plans for the construction of the museum and is waiting with bated breath for the work to begin.

Cohen, the head of the master's program in architecture at Harvard University, added that the building itself would be designed as a triangle, the galleries inside would be rectangular in shape and the spaces between them would be bent hyperboloid shapes. The building will comprise two stories above ground and three below ground. It will span 18,000 square meters.

Reducing the the plan's scope

Many projects of this kind overextend their budgets. Cohen says his team's plan will allow the building to be constructed at a cost slightly lower that the planned budget. Among others on the team is Israeli architect Amit Namlich, who worked at the office at Ada Karmi-Melamede and was responsible for a project at the Open University.

Cohen and Namlich have said that one of the steps they have taken to maintain the budget has been to reduce the size of the building by about 20 percent.

"We reduced the size of the building, in part, by reducing the number of stories that will be built underground," they explained. "One of the reasons for this is that it is impossible to dig too deeply in the Tel Aviv Museum because of the ground water there. Despite the changes, we have maintained the dynamic of the building." Namlich adds that the efficient planning will help keep the project within the budget.

"Unlike Frank Gehry's architecture, for example, which includes many amorphous and complicated shapes, we tried to plan the building simply so that it would be possible to build it using the usual means in Israel."

Cohen says the building material will be Israeli stone. "At the moment we are making our final checks on this issue," he says. "We are planning [to cut the] stone in dimensions and shapes that will make it possible for two workers to lift them so there will not be a need for cranes. This, too, will help keep the costs down."