Israel's Prime Minister to Get New $170 Million Premises in Jerusalem

Plans for one of the country's most costly public buildings were initiated decades ago, but finally approved last week.

Ada Karmi-Melamede

Plans for a new government complex in Jerusalem to house the prime minister’s bureau and official residence were approved by a planning committee last week and will now be submitted to the public.

With a projected cost of 650 million shekels ($170 million), the structure will be one of the most expensive public buildings ever constructed in Israel, but is still modestly priced compared to similar projects abroad.

The building is to be comprised of 90,000 square meters (970,000 square feet) of space, including 40,000 square meters of primary space and another 50,000 for service areas. It is to be built on an empty 30-dunam (7.4-acre) plot adjacent to the main government complex in the west Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Ram, near the Foreign Ministry.

The project was initiated in the 1990s following an architectural competition. The building was planned by architect Ram Karmi, but at the end of his life, the project became a joint effort of his office at that of his sister, Ada Karmi-Melamede, who took it over and made far-reaching changes to the plans. Although Ram Karmi signed off on the plans, that was because if he had not been involved, it would have required the job to be resubmitted for public bids.

The latest version of the plans — the third incarnation — was approved last week by a district planning committee and have been submitted for public comment.

Ya'acov Sa'ar

At 650 million shekels, the complex will cost significantly more than other major projects in Jerusalem such as the new 35,000-square-meter national library, which is expected to cost 250 million shekels; and a new 84,000- square-meter courthouse facility, slated to cost 500 million shekels.

By global comparisons, however, when it comes to public buildings, the new prime minister’s premises is in line and even a bit less expensive than most. The budget for construction of a new American embassy in Mexico City, for example, began at about $400 million, but ballooned to $763 million. The Nobel Prize committee’s offices in Stockholm, which are comprised of just 25,000 square meters, will cost about $170 million, about the same as the prime minister’s premises in Jerusalem.

Currently, the prime minister’s residence and the prime minister’s office are housed in separate structures in different parts of town.

A look at the plans for the complex that will house both the office and residence reveals that it is shaped somewhat like an eye, with two arc-shaped spaces. The arc-shaped structures will house offices and the space between them will be used for ceremonies. The prime minister’s residence constitutes just a small fraction of the total project, about 1,000 square meters of space, with the rest devoted to offices, sources told Haaretz.

The architects’ sketches provide detail regarding only some of the floors but from what has been provided, one might ask why the building is to cost as much as it does. The answer apparently lies in its security features.

Ada Karmi-Melamede

At the site, one can see that work on the underground portions of the building has already begun. That portion of the project was submitted for approval by a committee that reviews defense-related facilities and was not subject to public comment. Even the building permit for those parts of the project is not a matter of public record. A check of the Jerusalem Municipality website regarding the site reveals only the building permits for the adjoining roads.

“The project appears reasonable from an architectural standpoint,” says Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkovitch who is a member of the committee that reviewed the plans. He expressed the hope that the building will bring additional staff, who are now outside the city, back into Jerusalem. “A survey that we did showed that there are 65 government units that are not based in the capital and that employ 1,100 senior staff people and by law are supposed to work from Jerusalem. The moment the current Prime Minister’s Office is vacated, some of those additional staff people will also be able to be accommodated there.”

Some critics contend that the new building will look like a fortress. However, in that respect, it is no different from the other public buildings in the area and will fit in well in a complex that will not be accessible to the public or to pedestrian traffic. And even if the sketches feature a green roof garden of sorts around the perimeter of the building and on the underground levels, it can be assumed that most visitors will enter from the underground parking garage and proceed directly to the offices.