Architect David Kroyanker
Architect David Kroyanker. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Tomorrow, at a festive ceremony for Jerusalem Day, architect David Kroyanker will be named Yakir Yerushalayim ("Worthy Citizen of Jerusalem" ). At 70, Kroyanker is the youngest recipient of the award. He is in charge of the preservation of historic buildings in Jerusalem and has written 30 books (20 of them highly successful mass-market books, all of them published by Keter, documenting the buildings in the capital's neighborhoods ). Kroyanker is receiving the award for his work in documenting and researching the city's architectural heritage and fighting to preserve it.

David Kroyanker, when you look today at the city where you were born and in whose shaping you played such a significant role - are you happy to receive the award?

"I'm very happy to receive the award, because any expression of appreciation is welcome and it bolsters one's ego. But I'm not entirely happy with today's Jerusalem. There are parts I like and parts I don't."

What do you like?

"Good work has definitely been done on everything within the Old City. I am very enthusiastic about the wonderful, recent restoration of the Hurva Synagogue, one of the best restorations in the country. I greatly admire the most beautiful part of Jerusalem, which Teddy Kollek called the "Cultural Mile." Anyone who stands at the Cinematheque and looks north sees this mile, a strip of green parks that extends from David's Citadel to the Jerusalem Theater and includes many abandoned buildings that were damaged in the War of Independence and renovated. The most prominent is the Cinematheque, one of the most successful cultural enterprises in the country, followed by the Khan Theater, Hutzot Hayotzer, Jerusalem House of Quality, the Jerusalem Music Center at Mishkenot Sha'ananim and the Sultan's Pool, which was converted from a watering pool for animals to a venue for musical and other events.

"I'm happy about that, and I credit it mainly to the initial period following the Six-Day War, when Teddy Kollek was the mayor of Jerusalem and decided, with the help of the Jerusalem Foundation, to implement this project step by step."

What are you less happy about?

"Well, I live across from the Holyland [residential project] and see it every day, so clearly I'm not at all happy about that, but that has been discussed enough. I'm less happy with the architecture of the neighborhoods built after 1967, such as Ramot, Gilo, Pisgat Ze'ev, which were built almost solely for political reasons, mainly to prevent the division of the city in the future. All these neighborhoods were built on the basis of political decisions over which the Jerusalem Municipality had almost no control.

"One of the most prominent things since 1967 is what I call the slaughtering of the sacred cows. There are three cows. One is high-rise construction. Up until 1967 the tallest building was the 8-story one on King George Street, which back in the day was Jerusalem's urban diving board. Anyone who wanted to commit suicide went there.

"The dramatic change was high-rise construction. Until 1967 the average height in Jerusalem was two to five stories. Afterward many big buildings were approved. I personally am not opposed to towers as long as they are at a proper distance from the Old City, not crowded together so as not to create a conglomerate, and the worst thing about the towers in Jerusalem is their design. There isn't a single tower that was properly designed.

"The second cow is building exclusively in stone. Ronald Storrs, the first military governor of Jerusalem [under the British Mandate], enacted the regulation requiring all buildings in Jerusalem to be made from stone. That's important when the architecture is mediocre, as in Jerusalem, there's a common denominator unifying all the buildings. It gives the city a unique character, just as New York is metal and glass and London is red brick. By its nature stone limits architectonic hoopla and tall towers. Over the years this principle was eroded and they permitted a little too much glass for my taste.

"The third cow is that there is construction only on ridges and slopes and not in the valleys, which are left green. But construction in the valleys is unavoidable. Without the Begin Route, which runs through a valley, Jerusalem would suffocate. But in general I'm in favor of preserving the valleys as open spaces.

"All these cows have been eroded because Jerusalem has been transformed from a small city at the end of a dead-end street into a metropolis."

Is Jerusalem still a beautiful city in your opinion?

"First of all, it's not the most beautiful city in the world. That's just a cliche. There are charming places in Jerusalem."

What's your opinion of the haredization of the city?

"For the most part I'm a nerdy boy from Rehavia. I was born in Jerusalem in a neighborhood that was completely secular up until 10 years ago, and now it's religious and ultra-Orthodox. If you ask me it's the number-one problem in Jerusalem, and I think that what is winning in Jerusalem is demographics, and therefore I'm not particularly optimistic about its future. I think that the haredization is also the problem of the entire country, and while I don't agree with the way [Tel Aviv Mayor] Ron Huldai expresses himself, for the most part he's right."

Do you think about leaving?

"People ask me if I'm staying in Jerusalem, since many of our friends have already left. But I have an intimate relationship with the city, not only in the sense that I'm familiar with every building here but also I was born, raised and became an adult here. Here I met my wife, here my children were born. Here I formed my friendships and here my parents were buried. All my life, except for five years when I studied architecture in London, from the day I was born until now I have been in Jerusalem."

Is your neighborhood, Malha, still secular?

"Relatively speaking, yes, but recently two synagogues were built here and that immediately reinforces and brings in a religious population."

What are the chances of success for public battles in Jerusalem?

"It is possible that Holyland in general will have a positive effect, because it caused a major shake-up, and the sensitivity of the planning committees may increase. Opponents have also enjoyed many successes in Jerusalem, and there have also been battles that succeeded and had a negative effect on the city. For example, in the city center they fought over several complexes and buildings, and these were entirely worthless buildings, and when the developers felt that the years were passing they moved to other areas, and that prevented the gentrification of quite a few areas in the city. In my opinion the greens should be far more selective about the way they fight.

"For example, they demonstrated such strong opposition to Route 6, which is a wonderful highway even in terms of design, and what would Israel do without it? To their credit it should be said that there is no question that the green opposition affected the investments [of the highway builders] in design and landscaping."

What do you think of the light rail in Jerusalem?

"It's a tragic story."

What are you doing these days?

"I'm involved in the preservation of historic buildings such as Ticho House, for example. Now I'm busy planning the renovation and restoration of Hansen Hospital, the former leper hospital next to the Jerusalem Theater."

What do you think of the construction in Sheikh Jarrah?

"On principle I am opposed to building in East Jerusalem, Beit Yonatan, Sheikh Jarrah. I'm specifically opposed to it because it's something that in my opinion, if they want to reach a solution with the Palestinians, will prevent that solution."