Castles in the Air

In a new and provocative book, architect Israel Goodovitch attacks the trend to high-rise construction in Tel Aviv, calling it provincial chatter. As for the residential tower he himself designed, that's a whole different story.

Forty years have passed since the Shalom Tower appeared on the Tel Aviv skyline. And forty years have passed since Israel Goodovitch published his first book in England, "Architecturology: An Interim Report." This historical coincidence has led Goodovitch - remembered as Tel Aviv's most tempestuous city engineer, despite the fact that his term, in 1999, lasted only 10 months - to seek the rationale for today's prominent architectonic trend in the first Hebrew city: high-rise construction. In a new book, he confronts 40 of the city's towers, which will turn Tel Aviv, he warns in a paraphrase of Marcel Proust, into "towers that gather a city around them."

Goodovitch says that he has actually become accustomed to the Shalom Tower. "It is one of the most beautiful towers in the book. Functional, unpretentious and it does not tell a story taken from some school of architecture or from another conceptual world. I like it. Its beauty lies in its simplicity. When the tower was built, during the time of mayor Mordechai Namir, it was a breakthrough, and the approval of the tower caused a revolution that we are still experiencing. Everything is permissible."

We have turned into New York. Or as The New York Times claimed, "Part of Tel Aviv is, in fact, in the midst of a mini-Manhattan makeover."

"A stupid comparison. Our provincial desire to look like a world-class metropolis is reflected in all the provincial symptoms I know, and it begins with 'We are like New York.' How are we like New York? With its lousy 200-300 thousand residents, and with the surroundings it's barely one million people, and in New York there are at least 10 million. The fact that we are bringing superstar architects here who have no work at the moment does not turn Tel Aviv into a mini-Manhattan."

Aren't you exaggerating?

"Philippe Starck is designing the Yoo Towers, so I assume he has work. But before that, he did not have a prestigious project. He designed a cafe and some hotel lobby. The fact is that we take the unemployed and present them as super-architects in order to promote a tower as a brand name. For example, Daniel Libeskind. He was fired everywhere, and from [Ramat Gan Mayor] Zvi Bar he gets the most important corner of Ramat Gan. Richard Meier, who did the Getty Center in Los Angeles, God save us from that terrible project, will design a 32-story building at Rothschild and Allenby Streets, and is presented as a god. We are stuffed with articles and stories. Meier is a worse than average architect. Even Avraham Yasky is a better architect, and has designed buildings that we can discuss.

"Wealthy moguls who come here are inflating the illusion," he says, continuing the attack. "Donald Trump is building a tower at the Elite junction in Ramat Gan. Trump Towers will be built and Shari Arison Towers will be built. I'm telling you that Project G, 'The Art of Living,' at the Ibn Gvirol-Shaul Hamelekh-Shoftim intersection will be called Glazer Towers, and all this while the public is being stuffed with articles and information about Mrs. Arison who purchased a lot there."

Who is stuffing us?

"The business media are cooperating with the economic barons and the real estate sharks. Someone advised me recently how to improve my shaky image: 'Always flatter and praise, never criticize anyone. Say that you have a wonderful staff in your firm, tell them that your wife is amazing, because that will prove that you are wonderful.' It's a game in which one praises the other. If and when you enter the circle they'll eat you alive, but those inside the circle see themselves as the local cheering section of the Israeli economy."

The Yoo project is part of an international project of residential buildings Starck designed in other countries.

"The buyers of the apartments in the project should look at the simulation. These are not transparent Perspex towers where you can see through from one to the other; instead, one hides the other. They still don't understand what poverty there will be there. This is aggressive marketing that includes all the elements of fantasy, wealth and class.

"Land does not have a value beyond logic. The same apartment with the same quality and finish in Holon costs half as much as that in Tel Aviv. They are creating an artificial bubble of prosperity. One day there will be a surfeit of apartments, and I ask how many people will invest millions in some dinky apartment in an area where Katyushas may yet land."

A financial opinion that was submitted to the Tel Aviv Municipality about two years ago determined that no demand is expected for the apartments in the dozens of planned luxury buildings; nevertheless, there are over 50 towers planned that include residential apartments.

"Why shouldn't the municipality promote plans? It receives capital gains taxes and maybe anticipated arnona (municipal taxes) and that improves its situation in the banks. It recalls the days when the stock market rose and everyone knew it was a bluff and there was no need to wait for the conclusions of the Beisky Commission. The only one capable of explaining these processes is Uri Geller, because it's an illusion and trickery."

Goodovitch speaks of the contribution of Sir Patrick Geddes to planning Tel Aviv. In Paris, 150 years ago, Baron Hausmann planned a renewed and beautiful French capital for Napoleon III. At around the same time, New York was planned from scratch as a grid network of numbered streets. And in Tel Aviv, between 1929 and 1934, Geddes, one of the greatest city planners of the early 20th century, designed a pastoral garden city. Geddes, recalls Goodovitch, didn't dream that the serene town between Jaffa and the Yarkon delta would become a city filled with high-rise buildings.

"Geddes gave the city a tempo without parallel in the world," he says. "European cities are divided into open spaces and buildings. Here in Tel Aviv, he decided on a size of half a dunam, on which you limit your construction, and there is space between the buildings. Along came the wise guys and said, let's connect areas and build towers on a three-dunam lot. I play the piano. Take six chords, put them together and you get cacophony. In Tel Aviv, nobody listened to the music of the city. The Dan garage (at Arlosoroff and Ben Yehuda streets) is embroiled in a heated argument, and I ask: Who needs a tower there? There was one thing in this stinking country, if you'll excuse me, one intelligent city that was a light unto the nations and was acknowledged by UNESCO. What else do we need in order to ruin it?"

Why did you agree to design a high-rise within the historic city, on the shore near the Opera House? It seems to stand in total contradiction to what you advocate concerning the historic city.

"I never said there should be no construction on the shoreline, which has been covered with high-rises since the 1970s. I can't turn back the clock, and I also think that it's okay to build high-rises on Ibn Gvirol Street, which is the border of the historic city. Obviously, the historic city has a western boundary, which is the shore, and the decision was made in the 1970s about high-rises and hotels there and you have to live with that. I fell into it. I could have said that I'm not going to design this high-rise, but I thought that it was my job to deal with the problem. What is architecture if not problem-solving?"

The apartment tower Goodovitch is planning is due to be built in about two years, on Yonah Hanavi Street near the corner of Hayarkon Street. It is to comprise 30 floors, next to the existing 28-story Opera Tower (architect: Avraham Yasky). The project was commissioned by a Dutch company whose local representative is the Abulafia family of Jaffa. The project has received the necessary municipal and other architectural permits. The new building is to stand behind three historic buildings whose facades are slated for preservation.

Goodovitch believes his building will correct the "catastrophe" of the 1992 Opera Tower. "It [the Opera Tower] is a catastrophe. The municipal committees agree that I found an intelligent solution to the urban problem that exists there - on one side you have the Opera building and on the other there's nothing, in other words, it's like half a mouth without teeth. I chose one point of height, in order to fix the mistake of the existing Opera building, and at this one point, a residential tower will reach upwards, like a cone. All the rest will remain flat, that is, at the height of the historic city, and serve as a hotel and residences."

A High Court decision

Goodovitch, 73, has always been an emotional and aggressive type, traits that cost him dear when he was the city engineer. The book "40 x 40 (Towers in 40 Years)" - in Hebrew - which will be accompanied by an exhibition at the Eretz Israel Museum, is a certain compensation for that distress. "When I was city engineer, I wanted to do what I do in the new book. A book will do it better."

For years he has been disturbed by the towers rising in the city in an irremediable frenzy, and recalls that in order to build the Shalom Tower, the historic Gymnasia Herzliya building was destroyed. When the Gan Ha'ir Tower was built in 1986 - on a lot where there had been a public park (Gan Hadassah) and a zoo - he turned to the municipality and suggested a strategic plan for the city - but his plan was not considered.

In the Tel Aviv designed by Geddes, which is now called the "historical city," there were buildings at a height of up to four stories, on lots of about half a dunam, in balanced and even rhythms, along with three main squares: Dizengoff, Habima and the Municipality (today Rabin Square). Goodovitch can only dream about Geddes. The reality is entirely different.

Which towers in Tel Aviv would you take down?

"I would take down all the monsters on Rothschild Boulevard and leave the Shalom Tower so people would remember what not to do. When I began the job of city engineer, I said that what was built was built, and I didn't want to hear about towers on Rothschild Boulevard. Nothing helped. They said it was good for the municipality and the economy. I asked where it would end, they said on Nahmani Street. I asked how the thousands of cars would get there, they told me there would be a light railway and that the five stories of parking in Migdal Alrov would serve as shelters and warehouses. They confuse everything here in order to divert your attention; the main thing is that more towers are built, and quickly. Will someone be sitting in City Hall 20 years from now to give an accounting?"

And in general he observes: "Bodies like the district planning and construction committee or the urban construction committee are bodies without a world view or a clear agenda. There is no plan and there are no rules."

During his term as city engineer he canceled the Neveh Tzedek Tower project on Eilat Street in South Tel Aviv. Writing about it in his book, he tells of a high-rise tower on New York's Columbus Circle, whose design was assigned at the time to Israeli architect Moshe Safdie. The project caused an uproar, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, heading a group of angry residents, appealed to the courts with the argument that the tower would hide the sun and cast a giant shadow on the surroundings. The appeal was accepted, the court demanded a new design and the entrepreneur withdrew.

"To my great regret, architect Danny Kaiser, who succeeded me as city engineer, managed to approve the project in Neveh Tzedek, and even add a number of stories. They will build lofts there, in other words 1.5 times the height; moreover, the entire facade of the tower faces Neveh Tzedek. Chutzpah that has no parallel anywhere in the world. The urban construction committee - where the Green Party faction, headed by Pe'er Wiesner, the Meretz faction, headed by Michael Roeh, as well as perpetual oppositionist Gila Hertz, were all represented - approved the design. I write that in the book so the disgrace will be remembered forever."

The tower in Neveh Tzedek is only the first of many to be built in the area. "People don't understand that the Neveh Tzedek Tower is the first in a series called the 'Western arm' in the jargon of the Municipal Engineering Administration, on which, as on the Ayalon Highway, 12-14 towers will be built. In other words, a Great Wall of China will rise above the southern side of Neveh Tzedek. Never mind one tower that casts a shadow at various hours of the day. The Tel Aviv Municipality and its engineers cannot change the fact that Neveh Tzedek will never have sun."

If a resident of Tel Aviv discovers that someone is building a tower at the entrance to his home, what can he do to prevent it?

"In the book I tell the story of the Clal building, where the first residents' protest against the Tel Aviv Municipality took place regarding this tower, which is not very tall but was built in the heart of a Tel Aviv neighborhood planned by Geddes. The opponents were headed by the mother of [singer] Arik Einstein. I was then a minor architect and a neighbor, and she asked me if the municipality was allowed to build a tower. I write that the High Court of Justice decision on that petition sealed the fate of the Israeli public and condemned it to suffer forever from the tyranny of the government. On June 28, 1967, a panel of judges that included Sussman, Mani and Halevy, ruled that the municipality had the right to favor the entrepreneurs. And why? 'In order to personally help those requesting the permit, who have already bought the lot, so they won't have wasted their money ...'

"The justices ruled that residents would not suffer any nuisance from the parking lot, from the air pollution and from the noise, and that there was a reasonable chance that the building would improve the air flow due to the wind tunnel that would be created. If the High Court justices set down the principle, what should they say in Neveh Tzedek? We are not New York, we are far below a Third World country. The court ruled that the entrepreneurs should benefit, and that is unheard of, even in Tanzania and Uganda."

Life according to Pivko

Why did you bring the Pivko Tower (built by Ilan Pivko) into the book?

"It's a high point on a very even horizontal line of the Ayalon Highway, which juts out from the skyline. I was undecided, but it's hard to ignore it because it's a major cultural phenomenon. It's the provincial megalomania of someone who is shouting: I'm here and I exist. I'm New York. I'm a tower - although it isn't a tower. I'm exceptional - but a retarded child is also exceptional. I didn't know how to deal with it. Should I say that it's an advertisement for life according to Pivko? If Starck speaks of life according to Starck, at least he has designed some amazing kettles and plates. But Pivko has done nothing but this thing. In order not to say a word, I chose a passage from 'On Archaeology' by Vitrubius, which he wrote for Caesar Augustus, about the role of the architect in society in general. This is the first book in history written by an architect, and it has always been a guide to me, and I recommend that it be a guide to many people.

"I chose a passage in which Vitrubius speaks about what happens to an architect who exceeds his budget in an unrealistic manner. That's very relevant when we are talking about 'Life according to' Pivko or Starck. What is 'Life according to'? According to the money you invest? The standard of living here is loaded with stereotypes."

What kind of quality of life can the residents of the towers expect?

"I don't know a single society that has accepted the demands of entrepreneurs and contractors for high-rise residential buildings and believes this goes along with raising children. The towers are not community-friendly. Where will the children play, on the roof? We are not a country where one has to live indoors for most of the year. Those who purchase apartments in the towers are usually older people who are leaving a private house, or yuppies, or singles. There is a well-developed class of single parents and homosexuals, and they are suitable [clients, but] in a normal family that has to take the children to after-school activities and pick them up, it won't work. Human nature is stronger."

You're mistaken; it works all over the world.

"It's a contemporary alternative because of highly developed technology, but what will you do if you have three children who go up and down in the elevator all day long? Do you know what a burden that is on the elevators? It's also dangerous. Until what age will a mother be tied to her son, who has to go up and down and also reach the elevator buttons, which have to be suited to children. I can guarantee you that families with children cannot live in towers. All kinds of people who come on Pesah and Rosh Hashanah will live there."

A price to pay

Goodovitch lives with his wife, Ariela, in his parents' penthouse on Dov Hoz Street. When he looks down he can recall his neighbor, singer Yaffa Yarkoni, and the sand pit where he and his friends used to play. The apartment is large and homey, with books in the living room and various china objects. His home contains no sign of social status or original and expensive works of art, except for one item the couple bought when they lived in Japan, a lovely antique statue of Euterpe, the muse of lyric poetry and music. The statue is so rare that they don't even dust it.

"I've been married for 51 years; my wife is an architect and we work together. I'm the most stable and normal person in the world," says the father of the house. He has two sons, Dr. Tomer Goodovitch, who is presently in charge of the light railway in Jerusalem, and Dekel Goodovitch, who is doing an internship in his father's firm.

To the question of whether it is clear to him that he caused his own failure in the job of Tel Aviv city engineer, he says the failure was entirely that of the system. "My part is connected to my nature. I cursed and was the bad boy. In a newspaper interview I blurted out that the district committee is [a juicy curse in Arabic] and I apologized. I come from a generation that cursed. I sat with Golda [Meir] and she said [an Arabic curse word] in an American accent, but the press did not dare to write it. It is definitely not a type of self-destruction. I'm free and nobody will stop me. There is a price to pay for that and I paid it."

Was it worth it?

"I didn't have the power to change anything. I didn't lose anything, the city and its residents lost. I have no complaints against [Mayor] Ron Huldai; the media pressured him to fire me. The employees under me and the Engineering Administration and everyone else were against me because I disturbed the system. They told me that I was the flowing water and they were the pebbles. They would remain and I would disappear. Mr. Eitan Sulami of the Likud, who for years has been serving on the city council and on the urban construction committee, said to me: 'My dear Mr. Goodovitch, you are the city engineer, you can recommend. We decide.' That taught me the whole story. There were plans that were passed during my term and were approved by the local committee contrary to my opinion. For example, I am not a signatory to the Cameri Theater (in the Opera compound); it was signed by the director general of the municipality at the time, Ariel Kapon."

What is the source of your optimism?

"'After all, tomorrow is another day,' from 'Gone With the Wind,' that's my motto in life. The night I understood that I had to resign I didn't sleep a wink. After all, I'm human, too. The moment I understood that I hadn't lost anything because I couldn't implement anything in my job as city engineer, I told myself that when a person goes out to battle he thinks that the bullet is not meant for him but for the person next to him. As an optimist I always think that the bullet is meant for someone else."W