Yisrael Ohayon purchased an apartment in Be’er Sheva’s Central Park high-rise project, which is being built on the ruins of the famed Vasermil soccer stadium. When the complex is finished, the site will have 17 29-story towers. For now, two have been completed and are occupied.
These are not the high-rise buildings most of the city’s residents are accustomed to. Life in these towers is more communal, and costs more accordingly. Common spaces, which used to be restricted to stairwells, elevators and a small lobby, have been expanded into recreational areas and gyms requiring maintenance, all the while creating tenant involvement and a communal way of life and giving the anonymous-looking buildings character and quality of life – for better or worse. The building’s massive size might be detrimental to developing neighborly relations, but the common services may bring people closer to one another after all.
The buildings have two common spaces apiece, a gym and a recreational area, with each building choosing what this area is used for. Residents can use all the common spaces in the entire complex for a 470-shekel ($145) monthly fee to the management company, which maintains the building and all the common areas. “We have a gym and a clubhouse,” says Ohayon. “Other than birthday parties, we use it for socializing, common meals and Pilates lessons with an outside instructor. The other building has Torah lessons with a non-resident rabbi, with a communal reading on Shabbat. The space is also used for children’s parties on Saturdays. They need something to do, so we arrange different activities for them in the clubhouse. During Passover last year, we held a Mimouna celebration there, with all the traditional food,” he adds, referring to the Moroccan Jewish festival at the end of Passover, where sweets and pastries are traditionally served.
Ohayon and his family moved into their apartment a year and a half ago. The building was built by Azorim Construction and Y.H. Dimri Construction and Development at the height of the coronavirus crisis. They lived through the pandemic while trying to adjust to social life in the complex. “The coronavirus made it harder for us, since this was a new building with different cultures, each person coming from a different background,” he says. “The population is very large here: 166 apartments in each building, with two buildings completed so far. We need to find use [for the space] that won’t create problems. For now, we’re trying to look at everything from the right perspective. The area is a construction zone for the time being; it’s undeveloped, and we need to find ways to occupy our children. The clubhouse has provided a solution. There were things we couldn’t do because of the coronavirus, so we made do without them.” While nightlife was shut down to curb the virus’ spread, residents found a creative solution for the common lobby, turning it into a pub.
The Eretz-Ir nonprofit organization, which aims to promote business initiatives in Israel’s outlying regions, has been following the project. Miki Cohen, community manager at Azorim on behalf of Eretz-Ir, says that the goal in a project like this is to improve communal life: “Tomorrow’s cities will consist of similar towers. A community is not just the privilege of small, rural towns. Life in a city can also include comfort, community and after-work activities. Each one of the towers was planned so that there would be a common focal point; for us, that is the basis for community activities, providing an interface between residents. This poses challenges and can lead to friction – for example, even a garbage chute can lead to confrontation, since what happens on the 20th floor has an impact on the ground floor.”
In the early months of the pandemic, when gyms, bars and pools closed, restrictions on movement were in place and many made the switch to working from home, opportunities for going out or meeting people almost disappeared. This vacuum was filled by the apartment buildings’ clubhouses. Common areas that were previously used for storage or bicycle parking, or that served as bomb shelters or spaces for children’s birthday parties, were converted to areas for social gatherings for the building’s residents.
“The idea was to create the experience of communal living during people’s free time, right under their apartment,” says Omri Collen, the manager of community development at the Ramot in the City real estate development company, which is building the Ramot Hasharon complex in the city of Ramat Hasharon, situated between Tel Aviv and Herzliya. “The project includes four high-rise apartment buildings with 23-26 stories each, with four- to six-room apartments. The clubhouses will be on the ground floor. Each building will have activity spaces, including a Pilates studio, a gym, a music room and a meeting room. This is a community platform designed to foster ties between residents.”
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Two of the four buildings of the complex, in Ramat Hasharon’s Morasha neighborhood, are already occupied and the clubhouses are now in use. Residents have access to all the clubhouses within the complex. Along with the management company that maintains the buildings, there is also a company responsible for providing activities for the residents, including hiring instructors. Residents sign up for activities or book activity rooms through an app, paying 20 shekels per session, as well as a monthly fee of a few hundred shekels based on the size of their apartment, which goes to the company and the management.
“We’re cutting costs. There is an advantage to the location being right under your apartment. There are things you can’t do in a building with only 12 tenants but that are possible with hundreds of tenants, living in 600 apartments,” explains Collen. The project’s target population is very large, he adds. “There is a broad mixture of families here – young couples without children, elderly people, as well as many children. We surveyed the tenants to find out what activities they’d like in their clubhouse. Everything related to fitness, such as yoga, Pilates, etc., received high preference.”
In the Julie complex in Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood, built by the Yuvalim Group and City Boy, developers decided to use common areas to give residents space for activities usually done inside the home. The project has 9 floors and 152 apartments, but all the apartments have only two rooms. Every floor has a common shelter area of 40 square meters (430 square feet). The shelters also have other uses, and some are set up as laundry rooms and work spaces, while others are gyms and music rooms.
“The mix of apartments in these areas is limited to begin with two- to three-room apartments of 50 to 60 square meters. This part of the city appeals to a very young population, a dynamic and changing one with very different needs,” says Shimi Malka, vice president of sales and marketing at Yuvalim. “After the planning stage, we had a lot of common areas left over which we could have ignored or used for creating a different kind of living experience. In two-room apartments, utilizing space correctly is very important. These apartments have small bathrooms that are also used for storage. What is only a small part of a 120-square-meter apartment is a much larger part of a 40-square-meter apartment. Some of the common shelter areas on each floor are also used as laundry rooms, thereby saving space in individual apartments.”
The use of each space is up to the residents to decide on, explains Malka. Developers plan and budget the project, including the relevant infrastructure, but resident representatives can choose to change the use according to residents’ wishes and needs. “This is a living experience that allows for a hotel experience – you have a closed residential area that includes everything, from a workspace to a gym to a laundry room. There is a fancy lobby and garden, with the whole project revolving around common areas. The apartments are only part of the story,” he says.
Malka doesn’t think this particular complex is suitable for families. The target population could be young couples with no children, or elderly people whose children have already left home. “This is a significant part of the population, which has been growing in recent years,” he says. “These are people who no longer need the huge apartments they had before, and want to experience Tel Aviv. In terms of preferences for common areas, tenants favor sports and recreation. “Due to the planning of this area, everything is really crowded; people look for recreational spaces that will take them out of their apartments, and this gives them the perfect solution,” he adds.
Developers are divided over whether such a project is suitable for outlying areas of the country. Malka isn’t sure a complex like Julie would work there. “This is a very colorful party, but sustaining it costs money,” he says. Collen, on the other hand, is more optimistic: “These are common community spaces; it could be a more modest project in the country’s periphery, but there is no difference on the community level; people there also need activities for their kids.”
‘You don’t need six rooms’
Over the last year, due to coronavirus restrictions, many people found themselves needing to work from home on a permanent basis, creating a need for a private space where they could hold conversations and Zoom meetings. At the NXT Towers complex in Bat Yam’s Park Hayam neighborhood, developers decided to convert clubhouses into work spaces. The project will be built by America Israel and Etz Hashaked and will include three upscale 24-story towers as well as two other three-story buildings. The entire project consists of 300 apartments with three to five rooms each.
“This is a need that has arisen over the last year and a half. Many people with children found it difficult to concentrate at home. People needed some quiet space for working,” says Orit Nave, marketing manager at Etz Hashaked. “We decided to take the clubhouse that we have in every such building and turn it into a work space for the complex’s tenants. The space will encompass 55 square meters, including four office stations and one meeting room. It will include a small kitchenette, a toilet and internet. Each of the towers will have such a space; the work space will be in addition to a clubhouse. Because of the large space available, we decided to convert some of it to meet a need that arose.”
One of the implications of the need to work from home was people purchasing apartments with more rooms than they needed for living, so they could convert one room into an office. Nave says the new clubhouse makes this need redundant. “Anyone who doesn’t sit in a work area all day can use the space available right under their apartment, which allows people to buy cheaper apartments,” she says. “You don’t need six rooms. There are also many business owners just setting out, building an independent business while worrying about expenses associated with a large office. This solution saves them the expense of maintaining a permanent office while sticking close to home.”
In terms of maintenance costs, Nave says that these are not high for maintaining such a space. “Just like you clean a clubhouse or lobby, you have this space, which in any case would have been there as part of the public area. Considerations of the monthly costs were taken into account; we didn’t want a gym that would have required an instructor and ongoing equipment maintenance. We looked for something that would serve our tenants without costing too much. Over the years, people are realizing that the most important place is their home, which is something to consider – placing tenants at the center when thinking about future needs,” she concludes.
Developers invest a lot of money and thought into what purposes the common areas in a building would serve, but it’s unclear if that is what attracts tenants. Despite the unique living experience, Ohayon admits that this is not what enticed him to buy his apartment. “The clubhouse wasn’t a consideration; it was a bonus. Most residents didn’t think they were coming for that. We came for the apartment, it suited us; the rest was a bonus,” he says.
“No one decides on buying an apartment because of a clubhouse,” emphasizes another tenant who lives in a building with 35 apartments, but insists that the costs of such clubhouses can be very high and should definitely be taken into consideration. “We have a meeting room in the building which can hold 20 people, with a TV and a coffee corner; we have a hosting area with three sitting corners and a kitchen; the same floor also has a swimming pool, a gym, a jacuzzi and changing rooms. We pay 7,000 shekels a month for maintenance, but this is a building with few tenants, so the costs are split among fewer people. They also include a 24/7 guard, cleaning staff, a maintenance crew, a lifeguard and high electricity bills. The population here includes people over 50 years old; it’s not a building for young people with children, since expenses are high,” he concludes.