Pillars of Their Profession

Prof. Ram Karmi Age: 76

Previous posts: Owner of Karmi Architects; lecturer at the School of Architecture at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology; Housing Ministry chief architect in the latter half of the 1970s.

Previous projects: El Al Building in Tel Aviv; Amal Lady Davis High School in Tel Aviv; Negev Center in Be'er Sheva; Supreme Court in Jerusalem. During his tenure at the Housing Ministry, he contributed to the planning of Jerusalem's Ramot and Gilo neighborhoods and Jerusalem's satellite neighborhood Ma'aleh Adumim.

Most important architectural project in Israeli history: Tel Aviv's White City. "White Tel Aviv was created by idealistic architects who were committed and wanted to build a new country, a new place. So this is the only place in Israel where one can say that houses whose architectural style is beyond regular definition created a city with a unique flavor that portrays us. Since then, that vision has dissipated, and we are left with nostalgia and no faith in the future. The Tel Aviv that was build for the future is rubbing shoulders with its past."

Differences between past and present: "People live in a city because they want to be with one another, and theoretically, the buildings should also be with one another. Here each building stands alone, independent of its neighbors, so it can thumb its nose at the whole world. The towers are the most conspicuous symbol of this derisive attitude. "Due to this separation, we have no beautiful plazas or charming streets that express the together, rather than the apart. There's no architecture that expresses us as a society. Houses are being built by private initiatives, while the public space cannot be sold, and there is no one to plan it. Developers build "sellable" houses, covered with aluminum, like cellophane, and create fireworks that are not architectural truth. Architecture has a responsibility to future generations, not just the present. Today we have no partners to build a place that is ours; not in the profession, not among developers, and not on the planning committees.

Gershon Zippor Age: 76

Previous posts: Employee at the architecture firm owned by Arieh Sharon (who was in charge of the Israel Project, the planning of the state during its early years) and Binyamin Idelson; partner with Idelson in joint architecture firm; sole owner of firm after Idelson died in 1972, where Zippor still works today.

Previous projects: Recanati Building at Tel Aviv University; Shifa Hospital in Gaza City; the Alia Hospital in Hebron, the Mt. Scopus campus of Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and the Mental Health Center in Be'er Sheva, for which he received the Rechter Prize for Architecture in 1988. Most important architectural project in Israeli history: Densely populated shikunim (housing projects). "[Planners] came from all over the world to see the shikunim in the 1950s, because there were no such projects anywhere else in the world," says Zippor, who headed the committee that handled housing for the poor.

Differences between past and present: The status of the Israeli architect in the world. "Once, when people would hear that you are an architect from Israel, there was great interest from all over the world: in Europe, Australia and America. Israeli architecture was recognized [as unique]. Today what you see in Tel Aviv was already built in Dubai or Singapore five years ago.

"Once, there was a general, uniform line of thought, a framework that everyone followed. Today everyone plans from his own angle. It is a matter of fashion, not architecture. Yasky's new buildings have a simple structure, not like the lopsided buildings near the government compound that one is afraid to walk under."

Prof. Avraham Yaski Age: 80

Previous posts: Employee at Sharon's firm, where he won, together with S. Povsner, the bid to design the School of Economics and Political Science at the Hebrew University campus at Givat Ram in Jerusalem; partner with architects in joint architecture firm; member of Tel Aviv City Council from 1978-83; chairman of Israel Architects Association in the late 1960s; member of professional committee that devised master plan for Tel Aviv, Netanya and Hadera; professor at Technion; founder and first dean of School of Architecture at Tel Aviv University.

Previous projects: hundreds of projects including Kikar Malchei Yisrael (now Kikar Rabin), Hartzfeld Geriatric Hospital in Gedera, Beit Halohem in Tel Aviv, Opera Tower, Tzameret Towers, YOO Towers (together with Philippe Starck).

Most important architectural project in Israeli history: In every period, a different building receives attention for different reasons, and that it is impossible to choose one.

Yaski and Povsner designed Kikar Malchei Yisrael, a place where history has proved this square's influence on the state. Yaski was 25 when he won the bid to plan the square, and was still working on it while employed by Sharon. Since that part of the city was not yet developed, the plan waited 12 years to be implemented.

The initial plans called for an open, empty square to accommodate mass gatherings, apart from the side that touched the municipal buildings. Stairs were planned there for a raised platform.

"Twelve years later, when the time came to build, we thought we had made a mistake, and redesigned the square for various activities and a split-level square," Yaski says. "We presented the new plan to then-mayor Mordechai Namir, who decided to convene a meeting with the city's cultural founders and hear their opinions on the two plans. During the meeting, a telegram arrived from Uri Zvi Greenberg, who lived in Ramat Gan, asking that the square be left open for mass gatherings of joy and sadness. Greenberg convinced those present. and the original plan was chosen."

Events such as the mass demonstration against the Sabra and Shatila massacre, Likud election rallies with speeches by Menachem Begin, and even the event that led to the renaming of the square, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, prove that the square had a significant influence on Israeli history. Yaski admits that over the years he has also become convinced that it was correct to build the square according to the 1952 plans.

Differences between past and present: "In the late 1960s, I was appointed to head the planning team for a model neighborhood in Be'er Sheva. During my work on the plans, I discovered a paragraph in the planning laws that was a remnant from British Mandate legislation, whereby the government does not need a building permit for projects it is spearheading. This paragraph, which was intended to prevent the 'natives' from interfering with British construction, helped me in planning the neighborhood."

The neighborhood was planned without permits, but with weekly meetings, to which regional planners and other planning bodies were invited. Today, something like that would not happen.

"The more the regulators interfere less, the better things will be. Today this is impossible, but the regulator should have a supervisory status and not be heavily involved."

Yaski backs this up with the example of Tel Aviv, in which projects are delayed for years due to the planning committees.

"A few years ago everyone wanted to build offices. By the time they received building permits, the residential market had awakened, and everyone wanted to change the designation of their buildings for apartments. Their construction, however, created a shortage of office space. This absurd situation occurs because the bureaucratic system does not operate in sync with the market."