Tackling Living Space in Israel: Young Architects Present Their Innovative Visions

They want to demolish rather than build, and lay the groundwork for an evolving world. Recent architecture school graduates challenge conventions in 10 pioneering projects.

After five years of study, at the age of 28 on average, architecture school graduates are excited about their professional future − though perhaps a bit less so about the arduous apprenticeship period that awaits them in the next few years. Most plan to pursue an advanced degree − nearly all of them abroad − as we learned from speaking with the group we brought together this week. In fact, three of the women who were to take part in this meeting are already abroad, and the 10 that remained explained that they want to see the world, expand their horizons, forge ties in the international market − and then come back to Israel and open their own firms.

These 13 graduates are responsible for 10 projects − two from each of Israel’s five architecture schools. Despite the natural rivalry and limited interaction among the institutions, they feel that the hardships and challenges they faced during their studies are common to all architecture schools, in Israel and elsewhere. All expressed similar concerns about the limited amount of practical planning experience they acquired in the course of their studies, but expect to make up for that now, and feel that the richness of their education was more important.

This sense of cohesion is overshadowed by the fact that the level of work is not identical in all five schools − though this cannot necessarily be seen as a forecast of their graduates’ success. There is a direct relationship between the size of the school and the variety and richness of the work; the two smallest schools − at WIZO and Ariel University − have a smaller and older faculty and less ability to attract events such as conferences and guest lectures by architects from abroad.

In addition, the cohesion is weakened by some graduates’ lack of real tools to explain their ideas, like imprinting research within architectural design, the connection between text and form and between intention and action. At Ariel, a great emphasis was put on development of personal observation, which in many cases led to fascinating insights, but the design solutions that resulted were rather flimsy and put in vague context with what is happening in the world. At WIZO, the technical and analytical level was high, but here too, the few faculty members and the students’ focus on the subject of housing in their final project yielded a very homogenous planning language.

The three larger schools presented a broader variety of works, so none of them can be treated as a single unit. At Bezalel, where students worked in teams on their final projects, a solution was found to the current requirement of independent submissions − by defining a joint research stage that later served as a strong background for the individual projects.

Contrary to what the title “The Outer Limits of Architecture” implies, the Tel Aviv University projects, where the submission was located within the empty shops at the city’s central bus station, offered the largest number of designs for very conservative buildings that could pretty much be built tomorrow − although, as noted, the range of works was still too broad for this to apply to all of them. As for the curating itself, which here became a challenge for the students in tandem with completing the final project, there appears to be room for improvement, support and more direction from the university at an earlier stage in the course work − if the aim is to continue promoting this formula.

The most striking contrast between the level of the work and the platform the presenters were given occurred in the dreary spaces of the Technion, where thoughtful and well-made works were displayed in alarmingly crowded conditions. The blame must go to the faculty and administration, which is supposed to be committed to boosting the institution’s standing in Haifa and the surrounding area − where planning failures are numerous, and not just in academia.

Aside from Tel Aviv University, the architecture schools marked the exhibition of final projects with restraint. Bezalel held a symposium the following day with the participation of visiting architects from different countries, and at WIZO there was an end-of-the-year exhibit last week that included all the different departments. Ariel University graduates will exhibit their work for a week beginning August 21 at the Design Terminal in the Bat Yam business center.

In terms of content, the 2011 social protest seems to have seeped into academia (unlike attempts to attach it to last year’s works), while the students themselves are finding intelligent ways of dealing with contemporary reality and the future of their generation by subverting the old-fashioned planning methods. Rather than build, they demolish; rather than propose a permanent solution, they lay the groundwork for a changing world; and rather than isolate themselves at the drafting table, they meet and mix with people from other professions, and add a drop of humor to it all.

All the graduates now face a tough three-year apprenticeship followed by the controversial entrance exam administered by the Ministry of Industry and Trade before than can open an independent studio. Even then they will face a challenging situation, with a limited number of architectural competitions, low wages and steadily worsening work conditions − due, among other reasons, to the tacit agreement of their senior colleagues. Nonetheless, they talk about a spirit of change, which they wholeheartedly embrace.

Yasmeen Lala-Ferro, 24, Usfiya; "Structured Voids"

WIZO Academic Center, Haifa; Advisers: Galia Weiser and Zvi Koren

Yasmeen Lala-Ferro chose to work on her place of residence, the Druze village of Usfiya in the Carmel, to examine new ways of living − and the way these can be integrated with existing traditions. Residential buildings, she says, need to be part of an overall design that will form the basis for the public areas alongside them. In the case of Usfiya, a village that grew sporadically without any master plan, the challenge is to define the public space and create urban density, she says.

She found an empty lot north of the village center, overlooking the mountain slopes, and proposed building a series of residential structures there in the spirit of existing construction, but offering a wide variety of new types of apartments, all facing the scenic view. These would be built alongside a long bridge that would stretch from the center of the community to its northernmost point, above the valleys, and serve as an anchor for the change in the village’s current growth pattern − with the aim that future expansion would be close to it.

The density the village needs, says Lala-Ferro, is not the sort that is dependent upon the number of people per dunam, but rather upon the amount of cultural and social exchange it facilitates. So she proposes a mix of leisure, educational and commercial uses alongside residences. With an approach that combines planning from above with that which will take shape in the future, the village’s development can be promoted, while maintaining its unique connection with nature and the vistas that surround it.

Adi Yehezkeli, 26,  Tel Aviv; Assaf Bivas, 28, Tel Aviv; "Rent"

Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design; Advisers: Yuval Yasky, Matanya Sack, Iddo Ginat

Residential apartments may be large or small, cheap or expensive, but they are always autonomous units that offer the same mix of rooms − in total contrast to the constantly changing reality. This was the starting point for the project titled “Rent,” which proposes a residential arrangement based on sharing space by rent or exchange, similar to forms of sharing like Airbnb (travel rentals) and Car2go (hourly car rental) that have popped up in the last few years.

The form of residential living proposed by Bivas and Yehezkeli is adapted to life that no longer falls into neat categories of family, social standing or gender − but one in which identity is more fluid and in motion. The two developed a method based on the rental or purchasing of rooms instead of an apartment − these will be part of a reserve that can be rented by the hour based on need. “It’s immoral to prevent people from creating the identity they dream of solely for lack of resources,” they say.

They examined this general method via proposed additions to two different buildings on Pinkas Street and Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv. For example, in the evenings a pianist from the sixth floor could use the sewing room of a tailor who works on the second floor, while he, who lives nearby, could host his parents on weekends in the guestroom at the end of the hall, in return for the hours of use he contributed with his work room.

Mor Gelfand, 25,  Herzliya; Mor Novich, 28, Tel Aviv; Motopia

Tel Aviv University; Adviser: Danny Lazar

The Motopia project is about the search for opportunities to establish an urban utopia − in the undesirable locations next to highway interchanges. Novich and Gelfand joined forces to create a project that focuses on the Ganot Junction, and for this purpose they united two projects they had begun separately. One deals with abandoned urban spaces (Novich) and the other examines the aspect of speed through the eyes of architecture (Gelfand).

“Highway junctions are invisible spaces because of the high speed at which we pass through them − they elude our vision and therefore our consciousness and perception,” say the pair, who sought to examine how this speed could be blended with the traffic system and the living space of pedestrians. The project proposes ways to combine new construction on a human scale, not just that derived from train traffic − in a world of highways, soaring bridges and curving ramps.

For the project the two developed a “Speed Toolbox” − a sort of “user’s guide” that defines various highway spaces. They also created a new “two-faced” facade that will be pleasant and suitable for different speeds moving concurrently, and worked on developing solutions for the near apocalyptic conditions of intense air pollution, vibrations and noise.

Ariel Sharabi, 29,  Jerusalem; Space for Otherness

Ariel University; Advisers: Beni-Reuven Levy, Itzik Elhadif, Saadia Mandel, Udi Mendelson and Dana Oberson

 Ariel Sharabi’s work relates to the way Jaffa Road, Jerusalem’s main thoroughfare, splits at Davidka Square into two paths to the Old City that are quite different in character. These are the continuation of Jaffa Road, with its commercial character, that leads to Jaffa Gate, and the quieter Street of the Prophets that leads to Damascus Gate. The triangle created by these roads also separates the ultra-Orthodox section of the city − beginning where King George Street becomes Strauss Street − from the city center.

Despite its central location, Sharabi points out that this triangle remains largely empty, containing mostly parking lots, unfinished construction sites and rear courtyards. He designated the site to serve as the central platform for the different identities that make up the city − to be an urban center different from the homogeneous centers of the neighborhoods and from the downtown areas that he says only offer commerce and entertainment.

By working on different levels, above and below ground, and combining old with new, Sharabi seeks to create a space “that gives expression to the vast distance between us, a space that ‘enables discourse’ by revealing and concealing, in sign language. Or maybe you could call it ‘Jerusalem-ness,’” he writes.

Inbal Pintzov, 27, Haifa; Post-traumatic Urbanity

The Technion − Israel Institute of Technology; Advisers: Dan Eytan and Eli Darman

Inbal Pintzov’s project concerns Haifa’s El-Atika neighborhood, situated between the port and the train station to the east, and Rambam Hospital and the Bat Galim Station. She says this area is a clear illustration of the spatial conflict that arose following Israeli actions after the 1948 War of Independence: the emptying of residential buildings in the Arab city and the building of roads instead, with Jews being encouraged to settle in the abandoned areas.

The way in which Haifa developed created a space that holds trauma within it, says Pintzov, and this trauma has gone unattended for many years, despite its effect on people, the economy and the urban space. In her project she proposes a new kind of residential construction within the existing fabric of the old residential buildings, some abandoned and in ruins, and the creation of a commercial thoroughfare that will lead to the port, which effectively blocks the sea opposite the neighborhood, and to the existing commercial area on Jaffa Street to the east.

The trauma, a result of the conflict she described, becomes part of the neighborhood’s public spaces − for the sake of creating an examined urban identity. This is done by removing the ceilings from the abandoned buildings and turning them into open spaces − with their outer walls becoming part of the new construction.

Assaf Ben Zion, 27,  Ramat Yishai; On Environment and Identity

WIZO Academic Center, Haifa; Advisers: Galia Weiser and Zvi Koren

How is it possible to add more apartments to the Haifa neighborhoods on the Carmel without harming their natural environment and their relationship with the landscape? Ben Zion asks. His project intervenes in the meeting place between urban nature and the Ahuza neighborhood, with the goal of fortifying the relationship between the environment and the identity and recognition of its inhabitants. He says there is no need to increase density in the city − but rather to create a hub of attraction that will naturally give rise to density.

He looks at the patterns of the road infrastructure that surrounds Haifa in the Carmel wadis, which essentially create a buffer between the neighborhood and the landscape. His project focuses on a Center for Environmental Education in the north of the neighborhood, near the Carmel Hospital, which will be part of the “communal belt” that borders the neighborhood, beyond the final line of houses. This center is a multipurpose building that will serve the entire population through cooperation with community institutions in the neighborhood (like schools and hospitals), and will be raised above the ground so as not to disrupt the passage of animals.

He also proposes a network connecting the old-age homes, sports fields and city park, from which one could embark on designated walking trails in the wadis. The far ends of the trails would touch on other neighborhoods in the Carmel to create a new urban fabric and involve the inhabitants in environmental preservation.

Eli Keller, 29, Jerusalem; Divrei Hayamim

Ariel University; Advisers: Beni-Reuven Levy, Itzik Elhadif, Saadia Mandel, Udi Mendelson and Dana Oberson

According to Eli Keller, Tel Aviv represents a “paradox of modernity”: On the one hand, it is bustling with life and completely developed, and on the other hand, it is in decline, surrendering to vehicle traffic and cellular phones. His project does not adhere to the usual formula of defining a problem and finding a solution for it. Instead, he seeks to characterize contemporary urban culture as he perceives it: as a neglected, ruined and decadent urban space.

He focuses on the city’s bustling center, Rothschild Boulevard, which − on paper − he brings together with violent architecture lacking in proportions or function. “Architecture is changing its face, and turning from a harmonious discipline into a destructive practice, that destroys that which deserves destroying,” he explains. By means of these chaotic spaces, which look like postwar ruins, he aims to shake up the reality and create an opening for new construction and a different kind of life.

Keller’s work is accompanied by a series of hand drawings, lively collages and models that are simultaneously detailed and abstract, which illustrate the energetic and bleak encounter between the destructive energy that seems to rise from the ground and familiar images of the city.

Shani Shalom, 28, Tel Aviv; A Jaffa Picture

Tel Aviv University; Adviser:Ayala Ronel

This project, which deals with the renewal of the Kedem and Shem Hagedolim housing projects in the Jabalya section of Jaffa, is the fruit of a first collaborative effort among students from four departments at the university. Besides architecture, the faculties of law, sociology and anthropology, along with the film department, took part in the project, in the framework of the Housing, Community and Law Clinic − with the aim of generating dialogue and meeting with tenants to share knowledge from each of the different fields.

The goal is to create a practical proposal for improving the housing projects by means of renovations, adding new apartments and trying to decipher the cultural mix in a way that will strengthen local residents, rather than push them out. It also addresses serious social and legal issues such as public housing, land rights, housing rights, and the housing shortage in Jaffa.

Through her work on the joint project, Shalom scrutinized the role of the planner, the tools she has at her disposal, and the way her work is viewed by other professionals − and by her clients. Just as much as the physical aspects − the design of another residential building with an educational center on the ground floor − legal, social and even literary and personal aspects come into the process, which does not begin and end with this final project, she says.

Avigail Rosenshine, 42, Jerusalem; Yael Kaufman, 27, Tel Aviv; City/Port

Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design; Advisers: Shmulik Groag, Shira Shparcher and Barak Tepper

In Ashdod, Israel’s fifth largest city, there is a large commercial port where many local residents are employed; this port has become a symbol of the city, as its historic center. But in looking at the map, Rosenshine and Kaufman noticed that there is a spatial separation between city and port − and that the port’s presence is not felt at all within the city itself. Through careful research and a comprehensive series of arguments, the pair seek to remove this buffer, while developing practical solutions for the more complex aspects of proximity to the port, such as the noise and industrial hubbub there.

The action they propose is a physical flooding of the area between the city and the port, and the construction of an urban pier that will serve the needs of the residents while preserving the historic buildings next to the port that are no longer in use. At this point the project splits in two − “the urban pier” (Rosenshine) and “What is the new port city?” (Kaufman), and the two worked together on the different aspects of the complex planning for the area. They also tried to formulate a basis for learning about port cities in general, in addition to suggesting a specific solution for the Ashdod port. The project can also be followed on a blog that is regularly updated: http://rosenshinekaufman.blogspot.co.il

Igor Grushko, 28, Haifa; Haifa Breaks Ground

Technion − Israel Institute of Technology; Advisers: Gabi Schwartz and Shmaya Zarfati

Through a series of sharp and eye-opening images, Igor Grushko tackles the issue of construction in sprawling cities like Haifa that are built upon complex topography. He poses the simple question: Why do planners continue to relate to the land as flat, when the situation in reality is much more complex, and meanwhile developers persist in cramming high-rise construction atop the mountain ridge? Why do the Carmel tunnels, which connect the south and north of the city, relate only to the lower level, where the roads were paved − but not to the Carmel itself, several hundred meters above?

Grushko located the point where the Carmel tunnels intersect with Moriah Boulevard on the ridge above − an encounter that does not occur in reality because of the land that separates them. Between them he erected an imaginary underground mega-structure that seeks to link the two worlds and to this end employs every possible trick for upward and downward movement, such as ramps for pedestrians and vehicles, elevators, stairs for people and elevators for cars. These will comprise the infrastructure for the installation of various “black boxes” such as cinemas, theaters and warehouses. The entire project is influenced by the 20th century theoretical-utopian language of architects such as Yona Friedman and the avant-garde Archigram group.

The full presentation may be viewed at http://wannbearchitects.com/haifa

Ilya Melnikov