New Museum Showcasing Jewish Achievements Proposed in Tel Aviv

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Architect Frank Gehry stands by a model of his work in Paris.
Architect Frank Gehry stands by a model of his work in Paris.Credit: Francois Mori, AP

A museum showcasing Jewish achievements, designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, is being planned for Tel Aviv.

The museum is the brainchild of the Asper Foundation, based in Winnipeg, Canada. The foundation, run by a Jewish Canadian family, also financed construction of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, as well as other philanthropic projects in Israel. It has already hired Gehry for this project.

Gehry’s previous experience in Israel includes producing initial plans for the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, which were ultimately scrapped, and being a finalist in the tender to plan the new national library. In an interview with the daily Maariv two years ago, he complained, “They don’t want me in Israel ... They didn’t want to commission anything from me.”

The museum is part of a larger project that will extend north Tel Aviv’s Ibn Gvirol Street over the Yarkon River and line it with cultural and entertainment sites. The extension will eventually link up with a new neighborhood slated to be built after the Sde Dov Airport is relocated.

The municipality has been discussing the plan for the last two years. The situation is unusual, since outside parties don’t usually decide how public land should be used and then try to obtain the local government’s approval; the standard procedure is that first the city approves plans, and then money is solicited from private donors.

Moreover, in most public projects, the architect is chosen via open competition. In this case, the donor chose its own architect.

At a meeting of the city’s executive in February 2015, city councilman Dan Lahat asked why the museum couldn’t be placed in Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People. “There’s no room at Beit Hatfutsot; it’s inside the university,” Mayor Ron Huldai replied, referring to Tel Aviv University.

At another meeting on the subject a month later, Eli Levy, head of the city’s property department, briefed the executive on his talks with the Asper Foundation. He said the building would cover about 10,000 square meters, and construction costs would run to between $100 million and $200 million. The city’s job would be to rezone the land, which is currently zoned as open space.

Lahat and Huldai again sparred over the project’s necessity. Lahat said it seemed megalomaniac and asked Huldai whether he thought it was serious. “If it weren’t serious, they wouldn’t have gone as far as they have,” Huldai replied. “They’ve invested, in my estimate, around $5 million in this, just in the process.”

Moreover, having “an institution that’s an icon” on the Ibn Gvirol extension “is of great importance,” he said.

At a third meeting, a year ago, the cost estimate was raised to between $200 million and $250 million, and the total space to 22 dunams, of which the building would occupy 10,000 square meters. The city decided to give the foundation a three-year deadline to plan the concept and raise the money.

The municipality said the museum is currently just an idea with no timetable.

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