In the last 70 years, the unlucky Israeli landscape has spawned tens of thousands of ugly buildings and only a few beautiful and successful ones. Why unlucky? Israel was established in 1948, three years after World War II. This was the heyday of international modernism, whose essence lay partially in sophisticated production lines and replicable and unremarkable housing styles. As a country with a rapidly growing population, thanks to immigration, Israel was a tabula rasa for the realization of modernist dreams.
At the Israeli Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale, Israeli-built landscapes were categorized as Urburbs – the fusion of suburb and city in English. In an article in the exhibition catalog, Uri Shalom presented some problems that account for Israeli architectural ugliness, without explicitly using that phrase. He cited planning permit approval resulting from disproportionate population growth and state control of land.
The Israeli social housing pattern was upgraded after Likud came to power in the 1980s, when the state became neoliberal and capitalist. The residential buildings and housing estates grew into towers, the duplicate floors were turned into mini and regular penthouses, and the facades, streetscapes and urban environment were neglected. Thus, only “prestigious” real estate projects come to fruition here, not architectural works that are the result of cultural considerations. Postmodernism dominates quite a few residential and public buildings here. But the Israeli interpretation is made of cheap materials and is most of the time derivative and random.
In this article, we have gathered 11 buildings from around the country that have been built in the last two or three decades, which we have crowned the ugliest in Israel. They were chosen from hundreds or thousands of other ugly buildings. One can learn from this list, and by checking the websites (if they exist) of the planners, that the architects in the architectural-real estate game in Israel are nothing more than pawns that rarely influence the outcome of projects. They have become generators of profit margins, who realize the fantasies of politicians, contractors, and philistine capitalists.
Mayor Jackie Sabag reigned over Nahariya unchallenged for three decades. During this period, he was often considered the architect of the city and responsible for its aesthetic. His most significant monument, which will outlast his deposal in 2018 for some time, is the MedaTek cultural center, which includes a library, a community center, and a music center. Officially, it was designed by Arie Dror, but the spirit behind it is Sabag’s.
The construction cost was 160 million shekels – an extraordinary amount for a city like Nahariya where the construction of the municipal hospital building cost 100 million shekels. This building proves that a big budget is an opportunity to demonstrate your bad taste. The interior of the building is equipped with excessive chandeliers and gilded faucets that have aged badly and look like an unsuccessful replica of the Titanic’s interior design. But the main problems are in the surrounding area. It is surrounded by a fence, detached from the city, the sculpture garden is abandoned and of course there is no shade. It would be great if the new municipal administration would breathe life into this area and perhaps atone a little for the erection of the unnecessary monument.
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The wastefulness is palpable even before you enter. The building is surrounded by inactive fountains decorated with bathroom tiles, staircases designed in rounded lines and ramps leading to the entrance. All of these are covered with cream-colored tiles that have blackened over the years.
The facade of the building is a hodgepodge of shapes. It begins at the entrance to a building marked by two transparent towers, the construction of which consists of columns coated in a matte gold-like shade. Topped by white cubes and blue pyramids. On one of them stood a clock. These towers are replicas of classic Italian buildings like the ones that exist in San Marco Square in Venice, which were copied elsewhere around the world.
Hof HaCarmel Towers
Inaugurated: Late 1990s
The project, built according to a city building plan from the 1970s, has become a symbol of the struggle against construction along the beach. Originally, several additional buildings were planned, but none of the others were built thanks to public opposition.
The structure is massive, blocks the view and creates a barrier between the shoreline and the water. It bears no relation to Haifa’s architecture or its surroundings. The lower part consists of a chain of arches that create a pillar floor with no clear public purpose. It has no relation to the building’s form and material, and the bottom part forms a barrier blocking beachgoers from entering the building. The floors themselves are built on top of each other, without any three-dimensional or volumetric thinking. The front is flat. The windows look like they were pierced with bullets, offering no clear view or esthetic language, and the upper part of the building is shaped in the form of curious triangles that give it the appearance of a menacing samurai cat.
In front of the building are two prominent cylinders covered by a glass frame. Their design is reminiscent of old airport control towers. In the center of the building there is a huge rectangular hole highlighted by a prominent frame. The architects, Joseph Goldenberg and Meir Buchman, apparently tried to create a portal into the city, but this opening is a mockery, emphasizing the insensitivity of the structure to its surroundings and reinforcing the grandiosity of the project.
Sea Opera Towers
Inaugurated: between 2005 and 2008
Traveling along the coastline of Netanya is a visually challenging experience. During Mayor Miriam Feierberg’s tenure, dozens of towers rose along a stretch of several kilometers. Feierberg likely aspired to make the city look luxurious, but the result is grotesque and not particularly environmentally sustainable. Most of the tower strip has its back to the city that sits to the east, and to the Hefer Valley. The towers are surrounded by fences and security guards and have no public or commercial ground floors. They were built solely to maximize construction and profit percentages for developers lacking any consideration for the local culture or the impressive cliff above which they tower.
One of the projects here is the “Opera on the Sea” towers designed by architect Gabi Tetro. As with other projects in Netanya, scandals and lawsuits were involved. The aggressive shell of the building does not really deter potential buyers, who are probably only interested in the sea view, and the apartments in the pair of buildings that rise to a height of 26 and 31 floors continue to sell for millions.
In front of the towers there is a garden that was supposed to be open to the public but its landscaping, which consists of palm trees that do not provide shade and grass without benches, fails to really attract crowds. This real estate practice, of establishing a PPP (open private space with an affinity for the public good), is also common in Tel Aviv in buildings seeking to restrict public access.
The upper part of the buildings, designed to produce many types of penthouse floors, is particularly problematic. The housing units on these floors are crammed likes sardines in a tin, which from the side looks like a semicircle. This combination gives it the appearance of the Southern Oracle in the movie “The NeverEnding Story,” but without the class.
Royal Beach Hotel
Location: Tel Aviv
The towers along Tel Aviv’s coastline have been increasing steadily for decades. From the Hilton Hotel, the opening shot, the skyline along the coast keeps extending. Most of the towers aren’t connected to the city, some are quite inelegant. And the ugliest, at least from the outside, is probably the 28-story Isrotel Royal Beach Hotel, which also contains luxury apartments.
The hotel’s ground floors are among the worst along the coastline. They are surrounded by opaque walls that create wind tunnels and are unpleasant to walk along. The floors of the building look prefabricated and built on top of each other. The main idea guiding the planning seems to have been maximizing the rooms with a sea view. The result is a jagged facade with no regard for the exterior but focused on the interior design. The interior space is very well maintained, of course.
And if the jagged floors were not enough, the architects added an elongated cylinder clad in glass. An unsuccessful attempt to copy Michael Graves’ American postmodernism, lacking the comic effect. The icing on the cake – on top of the building, the architect (Tishby-Rozio Architects) placed a kind of metal crown that references the helicopter landing pad in the defense headquarters in Tel Aviv, known as the Kirya, made of beams lined with a pointless trapezoidal frame.
Location: Petah Tikva
Inaugurated: around 2018
The three identical towers, 20 floors each, are designed in a “towers in the parking lot” style. That is, towers that are randomly placed, do not generate any street or urban life around them, are surrounded by a parking lot and a park and meet the definition of the contemporary Israeli dream of a mini-penthouse at a reasonable price with a traffic jam every morning.
In reality there is no harmony, no elegance and no architecture, only construction and real estate. There is no pedestrian traffic around the buildings and the landscaping is ornamental rather than having any public utility. The disconnection of the buildings from their surroundings continues at the entrance, a cavity at the bottom of the tower, bordered by two columns that lead to the generically fancy lobby.
The floors themselves are defined in a rounded contour that is thankfully not noticeable inside the apartments but mainly on the balconies. It’s just a backdrop that creates three detached buildings, next to which nothing can grow. The lack of three-dimensional thinking in the design and the lack of connection between the shell and the apartments is also apparent in the gaps made on the sides of the buildings to add air flow and facilitate room design. They increase the dissonance between the round lines and straight lines required in apartments and rooms.
Finally, on the penthouses, which as always in towers of this type protrude above the rest of the floors, the round lines create the appearance of a reusable watering can lid.
Yarkon Cemetery, Gefen Building
Place: Petah Tikva
The relatively young Israeli state could afford some wasteful years when it comes to burying its dead. In the current millennium the state realized that it could not continue to waste more land for burials and began to encourage construction of vertical cemeteries across the country. One of the cemeteries that is supposed to contain a higher density of saturated burial structures is the Yarkon Cemetery, servicing most residents of Gush Dan. A total of 14 saturated burial structures in three types of construction are expected to be erected in the cemetery, designed by architect Tuvia Sagiv, who specialized in saturated burial methods.
Sagiv, a kind man with very good intentions, has one design with a reasonable style, which will be duplicated several times. An example is the Tamar building, which is covered with vegetation that gives it a pleasant appearance. But his other two types are less successful and look like concrete mounds. Sagiv’s buildings are covered with exaggerated strips and concrete beams that evoke a feeling of heaviness rather than a pleasant atmosphere. Like the New Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, but for the dead.
The Gefen building was previously covered in vegetation, but it has been removed and will eventually be replaced. Until then we can live, or die, with what is there. On the sides of the building stand some sort of tower used for elevators and other devices. They yell functionalism and don’t really relate to the mound-like structures between them. And the finale, the depressing shadeless roof reminiscent of other Israeli cemeteries.
New Lod City Hall
Place: Old City, Lod
Lod, like many towns in Israel, has recently been revitalized with a new city hall. The not particularly wealthy municipality built its offices for 90 million shekels, designed by architect Hanoch Shapira. The building is quite grandiose, located in the old town, and does not really relate to its sensitive environment, which consists of old and faded buildings and creates the impression of a bull in a china shop. An expression of the alienation felt by the residents towards the building was palpable in the riots in the city in May; the first incident occurred right next to it.
We are told by municipal officials that the living spirit behind the project is the city’s treasurer and not the architect. As in many projects whose main purpose is an unveiling ceremony, shots are called by the most powerful person in the organization, rather than the one with the most taste. It is a pity that in the case of the city hall, architects and urban planning experts were not heeded.
The plaza in front of the building has a military appearance and accordingly contains three flags. It has no public functions and is cut off from the surrounding old town. The two main parts of the building are completely bland and consist of two boxes perforated in square windows devoid of any uniqueness and glass walls designed to cut through the ordinariness, but don’t really do the job. Apparently to diversify the façade, a kind of thickened surface was woven in the front, the bottom of which contains information about the building and features a clock at the top, inspired by 19th century buildings but has no real contemporary value. Other features lacking any substance are the mosaic placed in the center of the building inspired by the Lod Mosaic, and a fountain that is a refuge for mayors who wish to honor their own legacies.
Government Campus, Central District
In the 1990’s the Rabin government decided to establish new government districts and courts throughout the country, which would include multi-purpose buildings featuring improved access, and larger working spaces for each employee. Following this, government districts were established in Ramle, Be’er Sheva and Tel Aviv, as well as courts in Nazareth, Haifa and other cities. This construction race led to the privatization of public construction. The government districts were the first to be privatized followed by the courts and even the State Comptroller’s building.
Construction is usually undertaken using a method called Build – operate – transfer (BOT). The result of this decision is that the companies chosen to build and manage the public buildings prefer to save on architectural costs and design a practical building, with the winning bid, usually (today the situation has improved slightly in some cases), being the cheapest.
The government building in Ramle is one of the first to be managed by a private company and designed by architect Zvi Gabay. It used to be Nitsba, now its Migdal. The kitschy building seems to be trying to borrow architectural elements from the ancient structures found in Ramle, but in fact mocks them. The mimicry begins with the facade located on Herzl Street. At the bottom there are a kind of gates in the shape of arches, semi-opaque, and the columns that define them are decorated with zebra stripes. Unlike the arches on classic buildings here they are not constructive but flat and purely decorative. The lame references to the Old City continue with the tower at the corner of the building, which apparently draws inspiration from European bell towers. Next to the tower is the main entrance to the building, which is marked with a clock featuring Roman numerals, again for the sake of a European feel.
Unlike the city hall in Lod, here the entrance to the building was designed with “high-tech” material. The clock is wrapped in a rounded steel beam that blends in with glass doors that enhance the contrasts, part of the postmodern style of the building. To refresh the heavy materiality and top off the inspiration from the historic city, a faded dome was added above the space that houses the Castro fashion store.
In the 1990s, Hillel Charney initiated the construction of the neighborhood, which was composed of a park surrounded by ten 12- to 18-story apartment towers, arranged in an oval formation. At their base are terraced cottages that stretch down the mountain. In addition, a single 32-story tower (Holyland Tower) was erected. The neighborhood has a dedicated road and bridge that connects it directly to Begin Road. As is well known, those involved in promoting and approving the Holyland complex have been charged with crimes and the project has over the years become synonymous with corruption.
So why is Holyland so ugly? As with many real estate projects in Jerusalem, it is surrounded by retaining walls, which define and fence it and damage the landscape. In Holyland’s case, the entrance walls are even higher and more enclosed than usual. The towers are shaped in an oval formation, increasing their detachment. The whole thing was designed to increase profit margin, like a villa in the sky, but the connection between the buildings and to the complex created a spaceship that has no relationship to the Holy City. The most architecturally problematic part are the bridging corridors connecting the buildings, which house additional apartments. These bridges were added to increase the profit margins for the developers and only further enhance the monstrous shape of the complex.
The sole tower built there demonstrates how architectural problematic it is to erect towers on the hills of Jerusalem. The tower is visible from any point in the city and unlike other towers designed by Moshe Tzur, who is also responsible for some decent towers in Tel Aviv, here it seems he did not think about the exterior and its contribution to the city but only the experience inside the apartments.
DCITY - Design City
Location: Ma’aleh Adumim
The project, which was defined by its developers as “the largest of its kind in Israel” was inaugurated this year with great fanfare. The building was built with a huge investment of 700 million shekels.
But there is nothing special here except for shameless mimicry. The developers themselves declare that it is inspired by the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, itself featuring replicas of landmarks in the Italian city. Accordingly, the design features kitschy, multi-arched facades, classic colonnades and moldings. There are of course also piazzas, one of which is covered with a pointless dome construction and artificial water features. Architect Shlomo Gertner, by the way, explains in the blog “Back Window” that he was inspired by Herod.
This structure is the epitome of a part of Israeli culture that does not attach any importance to external reality. It is copied and commodified or in Baudrillard’s term – simulacra. After all, what is important for the average Israeli is simply the design of the house, a place to show off to guests. The street, the city – these are not important.
The entrance is mainly accessible by car, identified by a gate made from two cream-colored pillars with headings and ornaments with 1920s style lamps. Between the pillars is a black painted metal sign with curly ornaments reminiscent of a wedding hall on the Coastal Highway. In the center of the sign hangs a circle with the phrase: “The design capital of Israel.” A perfect opportunity to mention that the building is located in a settlement.
The parking lot is on the ground floor, the foundation on which the project was built. After all, there is no street here, because this is a closed compound aiming to generate a bubble-like atmosphere encouraging continuous consumption. The parking lot is fenced by a perimeter beam with signs of the featured stores and brands. The exterior walls, oblivious to their surrounds, are pasted with photographs and advertisements that market your potential dream house. In between are Italianesque columns decorated with circles and arches. Finally, a transparent glass cylinder with a metal crown that looks like an inverted flying saucer, straight out of the 1980s, was attached to the compound.
Location: Be’er Sheva
In recent years, cities in Israel’s periphery are being covered with towers for no good reason. The absurdity is noticeable in the capital of the Negev. In terms of size, the city is second only to Jerusalem, but in terms of population it’s eighth in the country, so there is no need to crowd it with towers.
Bezalel towers, or “Bezalel Heights” in some publications, designed by A.D. Cohen, is located near the former Vassermil Stadium, and consists of three 26-story towers, and another low tower at the front whose purpose or relation to the rest of the project is unclear.
The project is laden with architectural hodgepodge like a bulge the size of about seven stories at the bottom of the building. The center of the building reveals a real estate trick – emphasizing three floors in order to create a pyramidal look in the middle of the building. This is probably an attempt to create “unique” apartments on the middle floors, or “mini penthouses,” which makes the building look like something out of “The Transformers” but gives it a marketing advantage at the expense of architectural neatness. Finally, the internal mechanisms of the building’s utility systems, elevators and stairs are visible along the upper penthouse floors so that an unnecessary phallic look is created.