Architects of Jerusalem's Museum of Tolerance Threaten to Quit

Moves two weeks before construction at contentious site is set to begin.

The architects who designed the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem have threatened to resign, two weeks before construction is scheduled to begin.

According to a municipal official, the architects - Bracha and Michael Chyutin – threatened to resign Monday over differences with the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which sponsored and financed the project.

Rendering of Jerusalem museum of tolerance- Rendering courtesy of Chyutin Architects
Rendering courtesy of Chyutin Architects

"The [Wiesenthal] Center drove the architects crazy. It asked for daily briefings and nagged them to death," the official said.

Municipal sources said city engineer Shlomo Eshkol was making efforts to persuade the architects to reconsider.

The company running the project, Tafnit Wind, also quit about a month ago, following differences of opinion with the Wiesenthal Center.

Chyutin Architects was hired to design the museum about a year ago, after the project's first architect, American architect Frank Gehry, resigned. Chyutin Architects signed a contract leaving the architectural copyrights for the plan in the hands of the Wiesenthal Center.

The Wiesenthal Center must now decide whether to forge ahead with construction based on the existing plans, hire another Israeli or foreign architect, or abandon the project altogether.

In the past, the museum site - which is partly situated on a 1,000-year-old Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem's Mamilla area - has been criticized as an inappropriate location for the museum. Arab groups and an Islamic organization for the preservation of Islamic trust property took legal steps against the construction, which they said would severely damage Muslim graves.

The project has also been blasted for its grandiose design.

After prolonged litigation, the High Court of Justice finally agreed to allow the construction some three years ago. But the project, whose cost was estimated at a quarter of a billion dollars, was held up after contributions came to a halt following the world economic crisis.

The Wiesenthal Center said the new plan designed by the Chyutins was intended to reflect "the current global economic situation," costing only $100 million.

The structure is expected to feature exhibition spaces, an education center, a theater, an auditorium, offices, a restaurant and gift shop.

The museum's architects have described the project as an "iconic structure reflecting transparency and openness [which] creates a visual interest from near and far ... a jewel in the Jerusalem skyline."

According to the Wiesenthal Center, "The bodies and authorities involved [in the project] share the vision of establishing the museum and are acting to implement it."

SWC Museum Corp, which is charged with erecting the structure, "will continue to act vigorously with the various partners to carry out this vision and will settle the differences with the architects, but not in the media or Internet," the Wiesenthal Center said.

The Chyutins were not available for comment by press time.