Contentious Jerusalem Pyramid Skyscraper Gets Downsized

Architects opposed to the plan charge the developers with deliberately creating a misleading simulation of the building.

Daniel Libeskind Studio / Vingtsix

A Jerusalem municipal committee this week significantly curtailed plans to construct a pyramid-shaped skyscraper in the capital’s center.

The committee reduced the height of the planned building, known as the Eden Tower, from 165 meters to 118, following objections by architects, preservation experts, environmentalists and the public. The tower was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind.

The developers of the building will now have to decide whether to preserve the pyramid form and reduce it significantly or change the structure.

The 29-floor tower will be built on the ruins of the Eden Cinema, at the intersection of Agrippas and Aliash streets, near the Mahane Yehuda market. The committee initially approved plans for a pyramid towering 963 meters above sea level, some 130 meters higher than the highest point in Jerusalem. Mayor Nir Barkat and the municipal planning board endorsed the plan, which was intended to change the capital’s skyline.

However, the plan created a public uproar, with the Israeli Association of United Architects, the Council for Preservation of Heritage Sites in Israel, the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel, neighbors and public representatives all voicing objections.

The objections focused on the building’s height, the potentially detrimental effect it would have on the city’s skyline and scenery and its impact on the street. Opponents also questioned the local committee’s authority to approve such a dramatic plan and the accelerated manner in which it was done.

Members of the architects’ association charged the pyramid’s developers with submitting deliberately incorrect simulations of the building to counter the expected objections. A similated image of the pyramid published last week was considerably smaller than the actual plan and more “airy” vis-à-vis the scenery, the architects said.

A simulation prepared by the architects’ association showed a huge structure with a dramatic impact on the scenery.

“This is a Jewish pyramid whose strength is reflected by its being a meter taller than Egypt’s pyramid,” a representative pf the building’s architect said at a previous committee meeting. That prompted Yonatan Golani, of the architects’ association, to respond: “We don’t know the source for these surprising Jewish insights, but we wouldn’t mention them had they been without repercussions.”

“At any rate, quite a few huge buildings have been built abroad as narrow pyramids, without any ethnic or religious characteristics,” Golani added in an objection paper.

According to the architects’ association, the plan was for the building to be almost 20 meters taller than the Great Pyramid of Giza. They also said the plan was contrary to Jerusalem’s master plan and infringed on preserving the historic neighborhoods adjacent to the site.

Architect Yigal Levi, who represented the real estate developers, rejected the objections to the tower’s height, saying that the tip of the structure “is not part of the building’s fabric or mass and cannot be seen.” In response, the association submitted pictures of similar buildings around the world, in which the pointed tip was clearly seen, even from a great distance. The committee recided to reduce the height of the tip, which was some 45 meters as planned.

The opponents of the plan accused the committee of approving the plan without seeing an accurate simulation of the building and despite the absence of a model.

“It won’t be a truncated pyramid,” Levi said after the discussion. “We’ll find a solution. For us what counts is that the project’s various uses are maintained and it remains an observation structure.”

The association’s simulation was incorrect, Levi said. “The whole basis of their simulation is wrong because it hides the adjacent building. They took our atmosphere simulation and turned it into the central issue.”

“These simulations are a complex matter and depend on the photography angle,” Levi added. “At any rate, Libeskind’s office is checking whether the simulations had mistakes in it.”

He blasted the architects for accusing Libeskind of attempting to mislead the committee. “It’s a disgrace we have all the reasons and evidence to prove that it is groundless,” he said.

The Jerusalem municipality said in response: “The local planning committee decided today that the height of the planned building will be returned to that approved in the previous master plan. In addition, the building’s lines will be preserved so the neighbors are not harmed beyond what was set in the previous debate. The interface with the street and public space will be improved.”