Talking Shop With Architects Reviving a South Tel Aviv Market

Winning competition to design community center in Ha’aliyah Market is latest victory for 40-ish pair of master builders known as 'L2.'

Last month it was reported that the firm of Tsiojov-Vitkon Architects had won the competition to plan the community center in the old, empty Ha’aliyah Market in a rundown section of south Tel Aviv. It was a small, local competition - in addition to winning architects, Lior Tsionov and Lior Vitkon, sometimes called “L2” for short, five other firms competed. The competition focuses on the interesting planning of an iconic structure whose method of preservation was left open for proposals.

The building is planned to be used as a community center and include functions missing in the dense urban fabric of the Florentine neighborhood: A community center with rooms for sport and other activities, a pool and, according to the Tsionov-Vitkin plan, also open spaces.

Winning an architectural competition, and also losing one, is not foreign to Tsionov, 38, and Vitkon, 41, whose firm has operated in Tel Aviv for a decade and has a branch in Pardes Hannah. In practice, the fear of antagonism toward their relative success considering their ages and size of their firm - which includes only six other employees in addition to the two Liors - arises time after time during our conversation. They present a broad range of fascinating projects of various scales, from the Kishurit Creativity Center in the Galilee for people with special needs, to a recording studio in south Tel Aviv, to the renovation of the historic Mikveh Israel complex in Holon.

Their most significant victory until now was in the competition to design the Umm al-Fahm Art Museum five years ago, in cooperation with architect Amnon Bar-Or - a complex project in budgetary, political and infrastructure terms whose construction has yet to start, and which is proceeding at a snail's pace. While cooperation with such experienced architects as Bar-Or and Danny Lazar characterized their early work, in the past three years they have worked independently. It is common to see them referred to in the press as "young and promising architects."

Lately they have tried to distance themselves from such publicity, but their latest design competition win, alongside a number of other fresh achievements they are prevented from revealing for now, allows them the opportunity to once again examine their values and aspirations. They are aware of the difficulties facing young architects, and of the professional jealousy, but they prefer not to comment on it.

Renewal in south Tel Aviv air

The Ha’aliyah Market project is the public side of a residential project of almost 150 units to be concentrated in three buildings, each seven to nine stories high. The project was planned by Yashar Architects. Tsionov, a resident of south Tel Aviv for the past 10 years, says a turn toward construction and development can be felt in the area, and this renewal is what motivated the main idea behind the project - doubling the public spaces through the use of an open plaza at the back of the old market, which dates to the early 1940s.

Tsionov and Vitkon used the image of colorful crates from the market as the basis for the community center plan. It is expressed in a structure whose floors are piled on top of each other as if randomly, while at night the floating colored lighting will replace the interior lighting.

When the winner of the competition was announced and the images of the project were released, there were those who said the form of the tower was similar to that of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, designed by the Japanese SANAA architectural firm. After a bit of pressure and lengthy reservations, the pair agreed to settle the issue: "We don't work in an empty space - we never have," said Vitkon. "Our progress as a firm is among other things through the search for an independent language that sets us apart - and in architecture this is influenced by concept, preservation of the environment - and also from architecture that is being done around the world.

"The tip of the pyramid in our country is very crowded,” he continued. “No one is happy with their share and everyone feels that it is at the expense of someone else - and the minute that this [selection] is ours there is surprise," said Vitkon. Nonetheless, they understand the disappointment: "There is a difficulty for young architects to break through - it is not one glass ceiling, but dozens of ceilings. You build two-family homes in Oranit. Did you improve? You continue to build houses. And public buildings are at most far away nursery schools."

In recent months they have started the detailed planning of another project they won in a competition - for the renovation of the highly visible Paz gas station on Herbert Samuel Street between Tal Aviv and Jaffa. As opposed to most gas stations, this one is easily identified because of the four round, yellow buildings set n a line by the sea. "Today they block off the sea," explains Tsionov, so the new structure must be transparent and open.

Competitions, they say, continue to challenge them - especially when they win. "The process we are going through architecturally, without customers, without building permits, without business licensing, infrastructure or water - that is what has brought us to where we are today. A sort of pure architecture: without constraints and without having to choose ceramic [tiles]," said Vitkon. "There is no such thing as pure architecture," claims Tsionov. "It goes together," responded his partner.

Tsionov Vikton Adar
David Bachar
Bloomberg