An Israeli Architect Strikes Back at Post-industrial Society

In an exhibit in Jaffa, Yoav Meiri showcases plans to return industry to the urban fabric.

Western economies are being transformed into cultural and creative juggernauts of computer technology and services. The traditional polluting industries are moving from city edges in the developed world to the global periphery, where companies make huge profits exploiting natural resources and employing workers at subsistence wages.

In the developed world, abandoned industrial zones are being converted into museums, trade centers, restaurants and cafes, if they're not being replaced by sterile high-tech facilities. The creative class, as described by American urban studies theorist Richard Florida, pushes the productive class off the socioeconomic map. Anyone who isn't in high tech doesn’t exist.

Israeli architect Yoav Meiri has different ideas for the post-industrial world. In his new exhibit, “Project Argaman,” which opens next week at the Jaffa architecture house, he confronts gentrification in industrial zones and seeks to restore industry to the central place it deserves, literally and figuratively. Inspired by the ideas of industrialist Stef Wertheimer, he wants members of the productive class to earn a decent living and be a key factor in the economy and society.

The abandoned Argaman textile factory in Yavneh is a test case for examining the new industrial revolution. Argaman was the flagship project of traditional Israeli industry that has since collapsed.

The Argaman Project is an opportunity to put industry on Israel's architectural and planning agenda; to discuss what can be done to make industry a part of life.  Industrial planning today is plagued by political and commercial forces that only see narrow interests. The Argaman Project is also a call to end the deference to high tech and provide some new thinking on the role of traditional industry in the social, national, ethical, planning and architectural environment.

No more fences

In research that preceded the exhibit, Meir visited industrial zones around Israel; the buildings seemed to him like enormous closed envelopes. Inside were production lines, offices, bathrooms, storage rooms and technology, all badly crowded together.

I saw workers leaning on factory fences and smoking cigarettes in the wasteland all around," says Meiri. "I parked in a huge parking lot and was beaten down by the sun.”

In the Argaman Project, workers will enjoy improved conditions to help them regain their professional pride. The future industrial workplace will offer comfortable conditions, be multipurpose and rescue laborers from isolation.

The factory will open toward the sun, and its fences will be taken down. The workers will be a part of the urban fabric. Industrial buildings will be smart and ecological; they will try to limit traditional hazards such as heat and noise.

The exhibit is the second part of research on Israeli architecture and industry presented in the gallery. The first part was based on a book by Tali Hatuka, who focused on Argaman as an allegory of the Zionist factory.

The Argaman factory was planned by architect Ram Karmi and dedicated in 1965 toward the end of traditional Israeli industry's heyday. The factory covers an enormous area: more than 90 dunams (22 acres).

 It includes an iconic administrative building and industrial halls that are basically concrete sheds with stylish roofs. There is also plenty of room for further development. The sheds are the Argaman Project's starting point. The infrastructure will be doubled and cover the entire site.

According to the plan, the sheds will remain as a skeleton only; new metal sheds will be built without partitions and coverings. Empty spaces will be used for nature spaces, sports courts, swimming pools, meeting places and other leisure activities. The roofs will house equipment to produce solar energy, and wind turbines will be installed.

The administrative building, the symbol of the old factory, will not be part of the project. After wavering, Meiri resisted the temptation to preserve it. He says he wanted to stay true to his belief that “the modular hangars serve the idea and are relevant while the exceptional building is not." The exhibition will run from January 16 to February 28.

Yoav Meiri
Yoav Meiri