Tel Aviv, the City of (Flashy) Lights

Every self-respecting skyscraper in the city has fancy, sometimes overly fancy, exterior illumination.

A significant number of the denizens of the Dan region greeted the year 2000 with a stiff neck, after viewing the previous night's New Year's countdown in the skies of Tel Aviv: 170 meters up, on the top of the Triangular Tower of the Azrieli Center, which (with the exception of the square tower) was completed in 1999. With its enormous spotlights that flood the towers at night, the center and its three prisms of light have become an iconic Tel Aviv landmark.

Ten years later, the marketers of the Wholesale Market residential project in central Tel Aviv, which is being billed as a "once-in-a-century project," chose to employ a similar lighting effect, projecting into the night sky columns of light representing the towers to be built on the site of the former produce market.

The history of building illumination in Israel, like that of its skyscrapers, is short. Up until 15 years ago, the antenna of the 138-meter Marganit Tower, in Tel Aviv's Kirya government compound, jutted far above the cityscape, its red blinking light a warning to low-altitude planes.

Today in Israel it's a rare real-estate project – office building, apartment complex, shopping center or architectural landmark – that does not employ a lighting consultant. "We work mainly with designers or developers," explains Gil Teichman, whose company, The Art of Light, boasts a subsidiary that specializes in architectural lighting.

"The wealthy people who work with us and who want their project on our CV and want it to be recognized and publicized are actually the ones who understand the commercial value" of this kind of illumination, says Teichman, who joined the Azrieli Center project in the planning stage and takes credit for the towers' current iconic status. "In the day all the towers look alike. They lack distinction. At night we gave them a light-bombing: That's what makes them what they are."

While the city's nighttime lightscape is seen as an expression of the power of the masses, it is in fact mainly the work of a small handful of individuals – who, as a result, wield great power, not only over the light shows themselves but also over the quality of life of the people who live, work and play in and around the buildings.

There is a clear separation, when it comes to lighting, between buildings in residential and in business neighborhoods, with the more powerful displays reserved for areas in which the population drops after dark. One such example is Moshe Aviv Tower in Ramat Gan's Diamond Exchange district (currently Israel's tallest building), the top floors of which are lit with blinking LED lights in what looks like a perpetual party for the top 0.9 percent.

"We deserve an icon," says lighting designer Michal Kantor, whose eponymous company, MK Lighting Design, was behind the original design for illuminating the office-and-residential tower. She says its current appearance, "banks of light that go on, then off, dancing and flickering was not part of the plan, neither mine nor the architect's." The idea, Kantor says, was to have a defined, limited number of light patterns, in a limited palette, "that would change delicately" to mark holidays such as Independence Day or Memorial Day.

Israel's luxury residential projects have created their own unique "lighting language," starting with the pioneer in the field: Tzameret Towers in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of the same name, better known as Akirov Towers, after Alfred Akirov, the real-estate mogul behind them. The exterior lighting for the trio of skyscrapers was designed after the fact and installed behind windows in the buildings' technical floors, and it helped to position the project as one designed for the very wealthy and discerning.

In the Yoo, W and One residential high-rises in the same area, thought was given to the exterior illumination in the design stages. The NAM Tower, also in Tzameret, takes lighting another step forward – too far forward, perhaps. Lights on all four of the building's facades throw strong beams of light onto the adjacent towers, blinding drivers on the nearby Ayalon highway and tenants not only of its neighbors but also of the NAM Tower itself – an extraordinary, if dubious, accomplishment.

"There will always be people who will think it very beautiful, and others who think it loud and tacky," says Kantor, who was not involved in the project. "I can understand the thought behind it, but the location is problematic. It is an excellent solution for office towers, not for a residential building," she says.

Around the world, awareness of light pollution – an excess of unfocused artificial light that results in skies that are lit up even at night, causing direct damage to human beings, plants and especially animals, due to the disruption of day-night cycles – is growing.

"We have crazy light pollution in Israel," Teichman says, adding, "It's like sleeping in a lighted room." Even in Israel, more and more focus is being placed on avoiding unneeded illumination and using directed light rather than indiscriminate flooding.

"Lighting is not about selling cool lighting fixtures," Kantor stresses. "Anyone who treats lighting as decoration or as a fleeting experience fails to comprehend the material. Light is magic," she says.
 

Yael Engelhart