Transformers for Snobs

Tel Aviv's Kiryat Atidim highlights the benefits of one architectural firm overseeing the development of an entire complex, in this case since ground broke in the 1970s

The Kiryat Atidim complex, on the northern outskirts of Tel Aviv's Ramat Hahayal neighborhood, is an exemplary project completed by Zarhy Architects. One of the country's veteran architectural firms, Zarhy is responsible for creating a wide range of buildings and complexes, particularly those serving the fields of technology, industry and medicine. The firm has accompanied the planning and construction of Kiryat Atidim since its inception. The construction of the Atidim Tower, a fine representative of the firm's values, was recently completed - creating a new, outstanding icon in an area that still consists primarily of open fields.

The complex was founded in 1972 as a joint project of the Tel Aviv municipality and Tel Aviv University. Yehoshua Rabinowitz, the mayor at the time and one of the university's biggest supporters, wanted to provide the school with an extra-governmental source of income "so no one would be able to tell it what to teach," as David Zarhy explains. The Kiryat Atidim campus was defined as a complex for science-based industries and was intended to serve, among other things, as a site for developing scientific research initiatives. Several laboratory and production buildings were built there, characterized by a strict and non-fanciful functional language. In the second phase, a 21-story high-rise as well as office and service buildings were added.

Atidim Tower
Yuval Tebol

Over the years, a number of the leading Israeli high-tech companies have had offices there: Ness Technologies, Comverse, ICQ, Rad-Bynet and Alvarion. For its part, the university withdrew from use of the site and today benefits only from its earnings. The last TAU institution to be housed there, in the 1990s, was the school of architecture, until it moved to its current home in the De Botton building on the main Ramat Aviv campus.

The fact that a single architectural firm has carried out the complex's overall planning contributed greatly to the development and expansion of the Kiryat Atidim. Thus, for example, the complex's air conditioning system is located in its entirety in a single energy center, which helps to significantly decrease electricity costs. The older buildings undergo constant maintenance work and aluminum panels were recently installed on some of them to give them a facelift.

A commercial center, kindergarten, dental clinic, post office and other services typical of a city center - not an outlying employment campus - are also located there. Kiryat Atidim CEO Elka Ilani explains that the proprietorship over the entire complex allows her to be a "snob" and to be very selective about the companies renting premises there.

"There isn't going to be a bowling alley here, for example," she comments.

The design of the new Atidim Tower fits into this snobbish approach. As a building meant for the high-tech industry, it is required to contain contradictory elements - high-rise construction on the one hand and a large area for each floor on the other hand. The building rises to the height of 33 stories (150 meters ) and has 110,000 square meters of floor space - equivalent to the entire area of the complex today.

"They asked us to maximize the window areas as much as possible to increase the number of corner offices, and to minimize as much as possible those spaces that are not adjacent to windows," explains David Zarhy.

The unique solution found was to create a hybrid of two volumes - the square and the cross - and so the tower almost looks like two separate buildings. This blend creates an optimal amount of room, in terms of floor space, while affording the building an iconic look. The tension between the square and the cross is also evident in their design. Externally, the square is characterized by horizontal stripes of windows and granite cladding, while the cross was given vertical stripes. The cross stretches all the way to the rooftop and "conceals" the building's technical systems by means of four triangles.

From afar, the tower kind of looks like a Transformer, a minute before changing its shape into a car or a spaceship. The building's elevator system makes it possible to divide each floor into four separate quarters. For companies likely to rent a number of stories, a separate entrance has been planned.

The lower part of the structure links up with a paved avenue connecting the complex's main buildings. According to David Zarhy, this "creates the feeling of an urban street" - well, maybe one in a quiet suburb.

The strict, simple and unpretentious design of the Atidim Tower is in line with the work of the Zarhy firm since its beginnings. In 1951, Moshe Zarhy, David's father, joined the firm of his father-in-law, architect Ze'ev Rechter; another partner was Ze'ev's son, Yaakov Rechter. Upon Ze'ev Rechter's death in 1960, engineer Micha Perry, another of the family's sons-in-law also joined the firm. The partnership lasted until 1973, when each of the brothers-in-law went off in independent directions.

While Yaakov Rechter excelled at developing and polishing the Modernist language, Moshe Zarhy turned to planning large scientific, technological and medical complexes - from the Iscar plant in Tefen, through Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer and Ziv Medical Center in Safed, to the polished Weizmann Center in the heart of Tel Aviv.

In a past interview to Haaretz, the elder Zarhy said that "from my first day as an architect, I have focused on the main problems of architecture in this country, on what is happening to us here, and therefore I was attracted to the high-tech industry and to medicine. Rechter was more attracted to the stylistic and formal side. For me the functional, technical and organizational side is more important."

In this respect, the Atidim Tower is a direct continuation of Moshe Zarhy's outlook, as he now approaches his 90th birthday: A preference for simplicity and functionality, over complexity and display.