A long time has elapsed since the Tel Aviv municipality decided, during the 1990s, that tall buildings would be built on the western side of the city’s most prestigious thoroughfare, Rothschild Boulevard.
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What began with office buildings and bank headquarters, as an alternative to the old Stock Exchange complex, turned over time into an area of luxury residential towers, most of them divorced from the boulevard – like the tower at 1 Rothschild, with its completely enclosed lobby, or the tower at 30 Rothschild with its three frontal pillars, small entrance door and little sidewalk that is not accessible to nonresidents.
Joining these, on the corner of Rothschild and Allenby Street, is the recently completed Rothschild Tower, planned by Pritzker Prize-winning American-Jewish architect Richard Meier. (Although the building is also known as Meir on Rothschild, the architect himself calls it the Rothschild Tower.) Most of the apartments have been sold, with the exception of the 400-square-meter (about 4,300-square-foot) penthouse apartment on the 38th and 39th floors, which is still for sale.
The building, like the other towers on the boulevard, is stunning. Its aesthetically pleasing private swimming pool, located on the roof of the Rothschild Allenby Market – above the chaos and ugliness of the adjacent Allenby Street – arouses a frustrated longing on humid summer days. By the way, you won’t hear much Hebrew being spoken in the corridors or by the pool.
The tower’s prominence over the other buildings nearby was achieved thanks to a planning trick: it was given 10 more stories than the other towers because the developers took building rights to structures in other areas of the city requiring strict preservation – one of them a hotel on Nahmani Street.
To the tower’s credit, its architecture is more cohesive than that of others on the street. Moreover, unlike most of the towers, whose primary facades face the sea and project estrangement from the city itself, the architects properly addressed all four facades, while the ground floor actually relates to the street it sits on.
Seeing the light
Along with Richard Meier & Partners, Israeli architects Moti Kassif and Buki Zuker were involved in the planning details. The tower’s planner in Meier’s firm was Israeli architect Gil Even-Tsur, who worked with Meier for nine years under design partner-in-charge Reynolds Logan, and now has his own architecture practice in New York.
“After several years of work, in 2006 I decided to leave the firm,” says Even-Tsur. “Two weeks later, Richard called and said he was starting to design a building in Tel Aviv and that I had to come back. I didn’t think twice, and I returned for another four years to work on Rothschild Tower.” Even-Tsur worked on planning the tower’s concept until 2010. Construction continued for a long time after that, and in fact they’re still working on some of the apartments – including some that have been sold.
Meier has a clear stylistic stamp, like the firms of Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind and the late Zaha Hadid. His buildings are always white and minimalist, with straight lines. Even-Tsur says that, despite this stamp, the tower was adapted specifically to Tel Aviv and its location on the corner of Rothschild and Allenby. For example, the louvers installed on the building are inspired by the brise-soleils that were installed on the early buildings of Tel Aviv.
“We wanted to create a building that, despite its tremendous height, would convey a sense of lightness and freedom, along with protection from the strong light in Israel. The building opens like a flower from the concrete core, the rooms in the apartments, the glass walls, via the shading network – outside to the air and the landscape,” he rhapsodizes.
Even-Tsur says Meier gave him a free hand in the planning and recounts how, once, Meier approached him during the work and asked about the unusual concrete walls planned for the center of the structure. Meier, who is Jewish, wasn’t familiar with this typical feature of Israeli architecture: Rooms with reinforced concrete walls and ceiling, which serve as home bomb shelters.
Even-Tsur explained that the rooms (mamadim in Hebrew) were placed in the center of the tower in order to free the façade from sealed concrete walls. There are also no columns on the facade – they were placed inside the apartments.
The result is that in the small, 60-square-meter apartments on the lower floors, there is a massive and prominent round column in the living room or bedroom (the columns are less intrusive in the large apartments).
Even-Tsur says that, in that regard, maybe they should have thought again and split the column into two smaller ones. However, he thinks Rothschild Tower differs from the others in the city. “We wanted it to belong to the entire city and not only to its residents. That’s why it was important to us to maintain uniform facades on all sides and not to have it only face westward [toward the sea], like most of the towers in Tel Aviv.”
As he chats in the building’s elegant lobby, Even-Tsur says the tower’s success will be measured not by the price of the apartments or public relations, but whether its presence will create a source of positive energy at the corner of Rothschild and Allenby, and have a positive influence on business owners in the area, on street life and residents of the entire city.
“I think we have to give the building time,” he notes. “In architecture, you know if the building was successful from a perspective of several years – and that’s certainly true in Israel, where processes are fast-moving and temporary. Tel Aviv is a changing, dynamic city. We’re sitting here and we’re seeing movement of people inside the tower. I don’t know who the buyers are, because I wasn’t informed, but we see that people are living in it.”
Even-Tsur continues to plan residential buildings in the United States, including an apartment in one of the two Baltimore buildings by the late, great German-American architect Mies van der Rohe.
The feeling of envy that began with our visit to the public spaces, the wine cellar and fitness room only increased when we went up to the penthouse apartment, whose living room is 6 meters tall. Like many of the luxury apartments in the city, its outside walls are transparent and the louvers installed on the windows externally reduce the entry of light only partially.
It’s customary to say of luxury apartments that their owners’ big money caused them to demonstrate bad taste and pile on more and more ornamentation and superfluous elements. But this apartment didn’t have a customer in advance, which is maybe why it’s designed meticulously and without unnecessary details.
The designer of the penthouse is Moti More-Margolis, who designed several other apartments in the tower. “Most people have trouble imagining how an empty structure will look when it becomes a finished apartment. When we sat and thought about the proper design concept – particularly in light of the fact that there is no specific customer for the apartment – we had lots of ideas, from an ‘oligarchic’ style to ultra-modern. In the end, we agreed that the best thing would be to stick with Meier’s DNA: in other words, the same materials, colors, lighting rhythms and design mathematics. And because there was no specific customer, I allowed myself to consult with a number of potential customers who can afford such a penthouse, with regard to the specifications and divisions of space they would prefer.”
I ask More-Margolis if he finds it odd that so many luxury apartments are located in such ugly surroundings, where most of the population can’t afford them. “There will always be those for whom the sky’s the limit, and it does seem there’s no limit to the level of investment in such apartments,” he says. “I’ve seen quite a number of palaces inside the various towers in the city. I think it’s exciting, and I’m interested in seeing how it will survive the coming years and the next real estate crisis that everyone is talking about.”
He adds that many people benefit indirectly from the luxury towers. “Such apartments provide a livelihood to a large number of people in the local industry, which has adapted itself to the very demanding customers,” says More-Margolis. “There are innumerable luxury suppliers of kitchens, furniture, carpenters, lighting, bathroom products. I definitely think there’s room for such apartments in every city – and in Tel Aviv too. Why not?”