Back to the Square Roots

A new fountain in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square fits in nicely with the plaza's original anti-architectural design. Will more plans to rehab the space be able to repeat the trick?

Moments after the renovation work on the small pool in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square ended, the place became an integral part of the urban landscape. Passersby slow down and others lean on the low railing or sit on the chairs and benches scattered across the plaza, gazing at the blossoming water lilies, goldfish and other slices of nature.

People are already attached to this surprising corner, free of design pretensions, without needing a period of grace to get used to it. The pool, on the southeastern edge of the square, at the foot of the sculpture by Yigal Tumarkin, is part of the square's original plan, which had been neglected for many years.

The new pool in Rabin Square.
Daniel Tchetchik

A few weeks ago it returned to life according to its original design, including a tiered fountain reproduced according to a single photo found in the municipal archive (at night it looks like a wedding dress ). What a lovely little fountain and what a lovely little pool.

Rabin Square, like its clientele, adjusted to the pool's new look in an instant, even if it is no mere decorative water works project but a so-called "ecological" one - a term undreamed of in the 1960s - and surrounded with a trendy wooden deck that is even less connected to that period's architecture, and chairs and benches in the new Tel Aviv style - clumsy and charmless.

The square's greatness (designed by architects Avraham Yaski and Shimon Povzner ) is that it is simple and undemanding enough to contain everything.

In the book "Avraham Yaski, Concrete Architecture," architect Sharon Rotbard writes that Rabin Square is an example of zero degree architecture, architecture without architecture, which "gives room" and does not "design experience." The square's non-plan, Rotbard writes, is its primary architectural value, and what makes it a first rate Israeli public space, an impressive achievement in light of the architectural chatter that generally characterizes the planning of public spaces here.

Avi Levy, a member of the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality's beautification department, was in charge of work on the pool, and he carried it out loyally, without background noise or a chatty architect.

The renovation was a relatively simple test for the square, compared to the campaign to redo the pavement, which is to be carried out in April.

According to the municipality, the original flooring will be replaced with something "similar" made of the same material. We'll have to wait and see if a miracle takes place and we'll be able to step into the same river twice.

Since the square was paved in 1965, the ground has been subject to a lot of abuse, especially by military tanks that parked there every year and left it bruised and pocked.

The necessary replacement, along with its loyalty to the original, is a suitable graphic answer to the non-architecture of the square, its size and emptiness. There is no way that Ackerstein pavers can do the work.

The pace of renovation in the square does not mean that the plan to build a subterranean parking garage has been canceled. So says the municipality - which with one hand scatters slogans about the importance of public transportation and with the other builds parking structures to encourage private cars.

"The plan for a city structure that has been approved in the area of the square and which includes orders to build a parking garage and issue a building permit are subject to the preparation of an architectural design plan and environmental development."

Architectural design plan? Environmental development? These are likely to be revealed as one test too many for a place like Rabin Square. The all-clear is sounded in the statement that "in light of the backload of projects in the city center, it has not yet been decided to create the parking garage."

Everything in its own good time. In Tel Aviv that time is short and everything is possible.