Frank Gehry Steps Down From Museum of Tolerance Project

Akiva Eldar
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Award-winning architect Frank Gehry announced yesterday that he was withdrawing from the Museum of Tolerance project in Jerusalem. The museum, being built by the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation, has drawn controversy because it is being put up on the grounds of an old Muslim cemetery in the Mamilla neighborhood. Other architects working on the project, however, say Gehry's resignation was not related to the protests.

Haaretz has also learned that Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch decided yesterday to cancel plans to set up a compound of judicial institutions in the area. The new buildings were meant to house the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court and the Jerusalem District Court.

Human remains were recently found at the site, which supported critics' claims that construction in the area was offensive to Muslims. Beinisch made her decision after an architecture company had won the tender for the project.

The Wiesenthal Center has begun searching for an architect to replace Gehry to join the planning team, which was composed of Gehry and Kolker, Kolker, Epstein Architects. Gehry resigned shortly after rejecting a request by the center to reduce the scope of the plan, the cost of which has been estimated at $250 million. Kolker, Kolker, Epstein said Gehry withdrew due to planning and financial disagreements.

Gehry is widely considered to be one of the world's leading architects and has planned the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Dancing House in Prague.

All graves have been removed from the site, with hundreds of skeletons reburied at the outskirts of the construction area.

The Wiesenthal Center says the museum is being built on a former parking lot that wasn't used as a cemetery, and that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem has in the past permitted construction over graveyards.