Surroundings / Ugly as Sin

Even in the aggressive and uncomfortable public spaces in Israel, it is rare to find as undiluted a concentration of visual aggression and hopeless design features as in the fearsome bus stops recently installed at the Mesubbim junction and at the junctions in Holon, Azur and Tzrifin, along the old road from Jaffa to Jerusalem.

Even in the aggressive and uncomfortable public spaces in Israel, it is rare to find as undiluted a concentration of visual aggression and hopeless design features as in the fearsome bus stops recently installed at the Mesubbim junction and at the junctions in Holon, Azur and Tzrifin, along the old road from Jaffa to Jerusalem (Highway 44).

The bus stops are made of heavy steel constructions, they have a back made of tin punctuated with holes, and curved iron wings. From inside them sharp projections stick out, and at the edge of each of them is a lamp like a spotlight, which is surrounded by a lamp shade made of a layer of metal. At night they are flooded with a blinding light, like a military prison installation, and during the day they look like dumps for dangerous ammunition or pouches for swords ready to be drawn. It is undoubtedly a sight arousing amazement and horror.

For a moment it seemed that the stops are some kind of sick joke about the Israeli environment and the local world of architecture and design, or a new attempt at shock therapy - perhaps one distorted mirror will do what many have desperately tried to do and not succeeded: to endow the public space with an appearance worthy of the name.

But when the days passed and the stops are still standing, exposed to the looks of hundreds of thousands of travelers and drivers who innocently pass by the junctions every day, one begins to suspect that this is not a parody of the surroundings, it's the surroundings themselves.

The bus stops arrived at their present location from Balfour Street in Bat Yam, where they were placed in 1998 in the context of a plan to improve public transportation in the city, and as part of the plan for the light rail in the Greater Tel Aviv area. The plan, whose main purpose was to set up routes for public transportation in the left lane instead of the right, as is usual, was defined as innovative and experimental. But it soon turned out to be problematic, and aroused fierce public opposition, as reported in the press at the time.

Its implementation required major changes in the structure of the street, which metamorphosed from a crowded and lively urban thoroughfare into a fast and dangerous highway, and led to a significant increase in traffic accidents involving pedestrians.

The bus stops aroused opposition on their own merits. Even in a city like Bat Yam, which is not known for its visual beauty, their ugliness stood out, and everyone called them "the monsters." Under public pressure, the groups involved, from Netivei Ayalon and the Bat Yam Municipality, decided to move the bus stops, which through some prophetic sense had been planned as modular units, and could be dismantled and reassembled.

As part of the search for an alternative site, at first an attempt was made to place the stops on the Petah Tikva Road in Tel Aviv, but Tel Aviv rejected the proposal. In the end, they chose traffic arteries and junctions that apparently don't have a strong lobby to defend their rights, and are considered a backyard. There is small comfort in the fact that in their present location, at least they don't disturb the neighbors.

Since they were originally part of an entire plan defined as an "urban project," architect Moti Bodek was put in charge of planning and designing the bus stops, as part of an overall system. To some extent, the design reflects the problems created by the transportation plan in Bat Yam. In Balfour Street, the stops were placed on a central platform between traffic lanes, and waiting at them could have been dangerous. For that reason, says Bodek, they were designed as "steel cages that meet the high standards of highway overpasses, and are constructed of materials that are used for building ships and planes."

If that's not enough, "there was also a problem with the lamps, for which they couldn't find a place on the platform, and then someone had the idea of the protruding arms." Arms that are connected by steel cables that look temporary, add the final desperate touch to the barracks-improvised-jumbled-Israeli look.

Discouraging in itself is the fact that the bus stops, and the transportation plan in Bat Yam as a whole, were not constructed perfunctorily. Bodek says that they were preceded by organized thinking, precise planning and a careful examination of the details by all the planning bodies, from the Bat Yam Municipality to the minister of transportation at the time, Yitzhak Levy, all of whom gave their blessing.

Now it turns out that not only have the bus stops turned out to be an aesthetic blight, and been moved from their place, but also the route of the planned light rail, which was the reason for the entire plan, has been changed from Balfour Street to another street in Bat Yam.

Whatever the case, Bodek himself registered the bus stops as a patent in the Ministry of Justice, in order to protect his original creation from imitations. Now the only thing left to do is to find a loophole in the law that will make it possible to melt down the arms and the protrusions for a suitable civic use.