Ugly Is the New Beautiful

God plans, and the architect laughs. In terms of real estate and town planning, you could say God is responsible for the main master plan, but then come the fat cats, as well as the politicians and their commissars. They take bites out of the areas zoned for the public good, and then the architects show up and turn God's plans upside down, laughing all the way to the hall of fame they are designing for themselves in their own feverish minds.

If I wanted to move back to Jerusalem, I'd buy an apartment in the Holyland project, the great advantage being that if you're inside the place you don't have to see its ugliness which, like an air-raid siren, covers the whole city. If I had enough money to invest I would construct, facing the Holyland and at the same height, a building with French windows and broad balconies only on the side facing the project. In that tower I would imprison all the affair's suspects, including the members of the planning committees that approved the project, the contractors who built it and mainly the architects from the company that planned it. I'd force them to gaze at the hill that has become a monstrosity 24 hours a day.

This is because an architect's mistake, unlike a mistake in, say, a book, affects the entire environment. It sticks out, literally, into the sky, it's a source of grief for coming generations, and it leaves scars. This also works the other way: Architectural successes remain for generations - immortal reminders of the genius and vision of the architects who planned them.

We read about it in "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand and we even wanted to be architects, but then we remembered that the only thing we could draw was a block, a skill that maybe could have been useful if we were selected to plan the new Habima Theater. It's a great pity that enough people persevered, realized their dreams and erected, on every blossoming hilltop, a monument to their lack of talent and our eternal abhorrence.

If I were in their place, I would demand that I remain a kind of protected source, anonymous in perpetuity, whatever the courts and the Shin Bet security service might do to obtain our names. But in recent decades they have even had their names carved on marble plaques attached to the atrocities they designed. It seems that according to the architects, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Not long ago I took my Jerusalemite son to a concert in Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium, known in Hebrew as the Palace of Culture. Even as he was trying to cram his long legs into the space available, and compromising by doing something like the splits, the kid asked me: "What's this ugly and neglected building?"

Know my son, so I told him that evening, that you are sitting in the very best of architectural achievements. And I don't want to hear you say the word "ugly" about buildings, not when we pass by Tel Aviv City Hall, not next to the Dolphinarium, and certainly not at Kikar Atarim near the Marina. And not at Dizengoff Square, either. Because there is something you should know. In Israeli architecture, ugly is the new beautiful and very ugly means the Israel Prize.