He Planned Afula and Nahalal, but Who Remembers?

Ines Sonder
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Ines Sonder

BERLIN - In 2008, when Israel celebrates 60 years of independence, it will be the 50th anniversary of the death of Richard Kauffmann. Is it possible to imagine a better opportunity to honor an individual whose activity in the planning of towns and village and the perception of landscape design and architecture was more influential than that of any other planner of his era? But who knows how to evaluate Kauffmann's pioneering contribution to the establishment of the rural settlement patterns in the land of Israel? And who knows that the aggregate of his work is greater than that left behind by some of the leading architects of the 20th century?

In 1947, to mark his 60th birthday, at the Jewish National Museum Bezalel (eventually the Israel Museum) a comprehensive exhibition of his works - entitled "From Planning to Reality" - was held by the United Israel Appeal (Keren Hayesod). Many of the visitors to the exhibition were members of Kauffmann's generation, who, of course, were personally familiar both with the man and with the built-up reality of the Land of Israel of those days.

And today? Every child in Israel knows the oval planning, which is known throughout the world, of the first workers' cooperative village, Moshav Nahalal. Aghion House, the official residence of Israel's prime ministers, is also known to all. But who remembers the planner, and what is known about his life and work?

During the 50 years since Kauffmann's death, a number of righteous people have tried to rectify this situation. They found very influential partners and began to promote various initiatives, but nearly all of them ended in vain. There seems to be a curse on the attempts to perpetuate his memory and work.

Kauffmann was born in Frankfurt on June 20, 1887. He studied painting at the Staedel Kunstakademie and with Hans von Hayek in Dachau. He studied architecture at the Grossherzogliche Hochschule in Darmstadt and at the Koeniglich Bayrische Technische Hochschule in Munich. He was introduced to the profession of town planning, then in its infancy, by Theodor Fischer in Munich. Until 1915, when he was conscripted into the Prussian Army, he ran a firm of his own in Frankfurt. In 1919, he moved to Oslo, worked in the firm of Paul Oscar Hoff and participated in several important town planning competitions.

In October, 1920, he accepted Dr. Arthur Ruppin's invitation to and immigrated to Palestine. Until 1923, when he opened an independent firm in Jerusalem, he held two key posts: architect of the Palestine Land Development Company (subsequently the Israel Land Development Company) and architect of the settlement department of the Zionist Representatives' Committee (subsequently the Zionist Action Committee). During this period he established the patterns for the rural Jewish settlements and the urban neighborhoods in prestate Israel.

The principles that guided his very extensive and pioneering work influence the planning of cities and villages in Israel to this day. Among other things, Kauffmann was able to define even then concepts that were not included in the Zionist-socialist agenda, such as quality of life and the culture of leisure.

As the architect of the Palestine Land Development Company he planned approximately 40 urban settlements and neighborhoods, which were influenced primarily by the "Garden City" concept. For the Zionist institutions he planned approximately 140 agricultural settlements. He also planned several dozen buildings throughout the country. In all of his plans he endeavored to express the social and agricultural ideals of the Zionist movement. His ideas were influenced by neoclassicism and included a dollop of monumentalism, and yet his plans were logical and functional and took into consideration the land surface, climatic influences and the settlement's environment.

In the catalogue of the aggregate of his works there are 664 projects, from his youthful works to his last project - a cultural center for the Yavneh Workers' Council. Kauffmann died on February 3, 1958.

Two manuscripts

In the exhibition that was held at Bezalel in 1947 Lotte Cohn, the first female architect in the Land of Israel, lectured on Kauffmann. Cohn was Kauffmann's assistant from the time she immigrated to Palestine from Berlin in 1921. About 10 years before the exhibition she wrote a first article in recognition of him and from then until her death, she continued to write about his work.

Ten years after Kauffmann's death the idea developed to prepare a comprehensive monograph in his honor. For five years Cohn spared no effort to complete this initiative and was supported by professionals from Switzerland and Germany. Among those involved were Professor Edgar Salin of the List Gesellschaft in Basel, Erika Spiegel, the publisher of a series of books about Israel and the author of the book "New Cities in Israel" and Professor Julius Posener, the well-known German historian of architecture, who knew Kauffmann personally. In 1974 the initiative was joined by the Leo Baeck Institute and its director at the time, Hans Tramer.

All that remains of that initiative are the two manuscripts written by Lotte Cohn. In both of them there are no pictures, as Kauffmann's widow was not eager to put the necessary pictures at Cohn's disposal. The family stood by its refusal to give pictures to researchers afterward as well. In a letter she sent to Posener, Cohn wondered whether it was possible to attribute the failure of the initiative to the Yom Kippur War and to the resultant changes in the attitude toward Israel.

Toward the end of 1985 an Israeli architect named Uriel Adiv submitted his doctoral thesis to the Technical University of Berlin. The title: "Richard Kauffmann 1887-1958 - The Complete Aggregate of His Architectural Works." The secondary supervisor of the thesis was Professor Posener.

The tremendous extent of the doctoral thesis (some 1,200 pages) and the fact that it is written in German, do not make it easily accessible to the general public. One copy is in the Central Zionist Archive in Jerusalem, where the Kauffmann Archive is also kept. However, the Zionist Archive does not have the power of attorney to do what it likes with the material, as Kauffmann's heirs have not transferred it legally to its possession. This is a mystifying situation, as the material, which is considered a national cultural treasure, was deposited for storage in the archive 47 years ago. The problematic legal ownership will presumably limit access to the original material in the future as well.

Familial frustration

Upon his return to Jerusalem, Adiv initiated a retrospective exhibition on Kauffmann's works at the Israel Museum. The exhibition was slated to open in 1987, to mark the centenary of Kauffmann's birth. Adiv and the chief curator of the museum at the time, Izzika Gaon, together with a team of advisers did all they could to ensure that the exhibition would open as scheduled. "Everything was moving along successfully," says Adiv. Nevertheless, the initiative fell through. Insurmountable obstacles were piled up by Kauffmann's daughters, one in Jerusalem and the other in Maryland. Months of strenuous teamwork, research, documentation, fund-raising and networking went down the drain. Kauffmann's daughter in Jerusalem took a copy of the contract, which stipulated that the family would authorize the museum to use the archival material, and never returned it. As a possible explanation, it is useful to know that Kauffmann planned a multitude of projects and buildings throughout the country but for himself and his family, he never planned anything.

In order to understand the abyss between Kauffmann's public activity and what he did for his family, it must be recalled that some of the buildings he planned in Tel Aviv have been chosen by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to be included in the World Heritage site of the "White City" of Tel Aviv. Nothing remains in the hands of the family, and they seem to be expressing their frustration, as though they were crying "they owe us!"

Adiv did not give up. About 20 years after the failure of the exhibition he tried his luck again. In advance of the 50th anniversary of the great architect's death he initiated an ambitious interdisciplinary memorial project entitled "Richard Kauffmann 2008." An exhibition at the Israel Museum was only one part of the initiative. Adiv also planned an extraordinary event on an international scale, which could have included scores of activities in Israel and Germany.

Everyone who has anything to do with matters of planning, architecture, settlement, history, geography, art, convention organizing and fund-raising in Israel, Germany and the United States became a partner in the project. Adiv surrounded himself with a highly professional team and first-rate media people. An international public council was formed, including Professor Omar Akbar, the director of the Bauhaus in Dessau; architects Daniel Libeskind, David Reznik, Zvi Hecker, Asher Ben-Natan; Haifa University Rector Yossi Ben Artzi, archaeologist Trude Dothan; singer Mira Zakai; geographers Ruth Kark and Yossi Katz and Michael Levin, "initiator the idea of the White City"; and representatives of preservation, design and architecture organizations. Sculptor Dani Karavan agreed to design an environmental sculpture near Nahalal in Kauffmann's memory, and composer Noam Sheriff agreed to compose music for a poem as homage to the architect for the opening of festivities that were to cover the entire year of 2008.

Adiv presented his plan to the Israeli ambassador in Berlin and to the German cultural attache in Tel Aviv. Among others, the Israel Museum, the Museum of German Jews in Tefer, the German Museum of Architecture, the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt, the Martin Gropius Museum in Berlin and the Academy of Arts in Berlin expressed initial agreement to hold a variety of exhibitions in Kauffmann's memory. Universities in Israel and Germany also began to cooperate with realizing the idea. The Mifal Hapayis Fund for Culture and Art forwarded an initial grant to save the Kauffmann archive and put it on the Internet site of the Central Zionist Archive.

Adiv also contacted the Ministerial Committee on Symbols and Ceremonies and thus was born what was intended to be the keystone of the activity to commemorate Kauffmann's work - the declaration of the 60th anniversary of Israel's independence as "The Year of Settlement."

Preparations were also made for naming streets after Kauffmann, issuing an official memorial medallion and a series of stamps in his honor and the establishment of a prize in his name for young planners for excellence in rural planning.

But the Richard Kauffmann 2008 initiative collapsed. The institutions and the individuals involved in it are facing a mystery: What caused the members of the Kauffmann family to decide not to cooperate with the steering committee and why are they depriving the father of the family of the tremendous honor he deserves?

How is it possible to do honor to Richard Kauffmann? Will we have to wait until a new generation of researchers arises to find a suitable framework for presenting Kauffmann's creative work? Who will decide whether it will be possible to show his work in one exhibition or another?

Mosaic at Kfar Yehoshua

At Kfar Yehoshua, a moshav that was planned by Kauffmann, a beautiful mosaic floor was dedicated in 2004 in honor of the architect. The idea was suggested by moshav artist Elie Shamir, who also supervised its implementation. Despite the beauty of the idea and the artistic homage, their influence with respect to perpetuating the heritage is limited.

The exhibition "The New Hebrews - 100 Years of Art in Israel," which was shown last summer in Berlin, proved that internationally, and especially in Germany, there is great interest in Israeli artistic work. In a historical perspective Richard Kauffmann, the German Jew and Israeli architect, whose works accounted for the major part of the architecture section of this exhibition, could be a link between the two countries. If not now, when?

Dr. Sonder is a researcher of architecture in the Land of Israel at the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European-Jewish Studies in Potsdam. Her book, "Garden Cites for Eretz Yisrael: Zionist Town Planning Visions from Theodor Herzl to Richard Kauffmann," was published by the Olms publishing house in Hildesheim, Germany.



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN


The Orion nebula, photographed in 2009 by the Spitzer Telescope.

What if the Big Bang Never Actually Happened?

Relatives mourn during the funeral of four teenage Palestinians from the Nijm family killed by an errant rocket in Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip, August 7.

Why Palestinian Islamic Jihad Rockets Kill So Many Palestinians

בן גוריון

'Strangers in My House': Letters Expelled Palestinian Sent Ben-Gurion in 1948, Revealed


AIPAC vs. American Jews: The Toxic Victories of the 'pro-Israel' Lobby

Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic speaks during a press conference in Sarajevo, Bosnia in May.

‘This Is Crazy’: Israeli Embassy Memo Stirs Political Storm in the Balkans

Hamas militants take part in a military parade in Gaza.

Israel Rewards Hamas for Its Restraint During Gaza Op