Posts tagged with "Jerusalem":

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Gondolas over Jerusalem spark international controversy

The Holy City of Jerusalem is known for its hilly geography and the narrow, winding roads that delineate distinct Jewish, Arab and Christian neighborhoods. The city fabric nonetheless requires both visitors and residents to cross borders, whether to see various holy sites or to get to the market.  Ronnie Ellenblum, a sociology professor at Hebrew University, describes this Old City layout as requiring “that you pass through all sorts of places before you reach your destination, mingling, feeling lost, ultimately finding yourself.” However, this feeling of self-discovery in the Old City is set to be altered; Israeli authorities have approved plans for a cable car system that would fly visitors high above the city skyline, with lines corresponding specifically to Jewish heritage pilgrimage routes.  While Moshe Safdie, the renowned Israeli-born architect, calls the project “A total outrage against a fragile city,” as well as “An aesthetic and architectural affront,” the criticisms go far deeper than just the unimaginatively modern glass-and-steel aesthetics. The locations for stations, and the sites and neighborhoods set to be serviced, boil down to be controversial choices from all angles within the context of the Holy City.  Right-wing Israeli leaders have hailed the concept as a sustainable solution to the problems of vehicular traffic in the city, congested by ever-increasing numbers of pilgrims and tourists. However, the current cable car plan curates a certain "City of David" program over the city, as large-scale urban planning and transportation has the power to fundamentally change how cities are traversed and dictate what people see, how they see it, and how it's remembered.  The plan includes a standard station architecture of raised glass boxes that would rest on pylons at high points and hills, beginning in a Jewish neighborhood, swooping downwards towards Mount Zion, and finally landing at the Western Wall.  The new transit system would fundamentally alter the visual experience of the ancient city, juxtaposing the low yellowed-brick walls with the ubiquitous international glass box aesthetic, rising high above them and crisscrossing the streetscape. The architect of the station, Mendy Rosenfeld, believes it’s a matter of taste and execution, but also admits that “there is no way you can hide a cable car system.” Rosenfeld and supporters of the design cite I.M. Pei’s famous pyramid at the Louvre, and specifically the backlash the design received in advance of its international recognition. Yet Paris is not the crossroads of three major religions.  While Israeli governments have historically been hypersensitive to aesthetic changes to the city, the current body is taking a more progressive stance towards the built environment. With approvals for 40-story skyscrapers as well as a new office park, it seems like city officials are interested in keeping up with other rapidly growing commercial cities. But the choices in taste and architectural style continue to dominate not just architecture conversations, but international politics. Whether it’s traditional Jewish West Jerusalem cladding or shiny glass-and-steel pavilions, the choices in how the world sees and experiences the built environment today have implications far beyond form and function. 
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Pinkwashing Zion Square

When the Freedom of Information Act became law, many of my comrades from the struggles of the sixties sent away for their files. For a number there was a terrible outcome: The files were empty. How terrible to think of yourself as a dangerous enemy of the state only to discover you’d been completely beneath its notice! Slightly similar feelings arose when I received a note from the director of media affairs at the Israeli Consulate General wondering if I would be interested in covering a just-announced architectural competition for the redesign of Jerusalem’s Zion Square, a Mandate-era public space in West Jerusalem that has, since the 1930s, been a commercial center (the eponymous Zion was a cinema) and the go-to site for a wide variety of demonstrations, including mass rallies by both right and left. The competition is intended to refresh the site as well as to rebrand and repurpose it, “From Protest Square to Tolerance Square.” As the press release elaborates this false—even invidious—antithesis, “Zion Square, which drew demonstrations and protests, will become a square of tolerance and mutual respect.” Apparently my old pieces denouncing the fraudulent “Museum of Tolerance” (currently under construction on the site of an historic Arab cemetery not far away) and originally to have been designed by Frank Gehry (who wisely backed out) hadn’t made it to my dossier! Perhaps I have no dossier! Let one be opened and let my protest against this grotesque undertaking be the first page! This isn’t the first time there’s been an effort to reconsider the square. In 2006, the Jerusalem Foundation proposed to rebuild it and to rename it Rapoport Plaza, “in honor,” according to the Jerusalem Post, “of the Waco, Texas, tycoon who pledged two million for urban improvements,” including a colossal Cor-ten sculpture by Ron Arad. Although this scheme disappeared quickly, the funkiness and formal incoherence of the time-altered place has been an enduring source of dismay to bien pensant planners, concerned with its failures as a streetscape. The design brief for the new effort at transformation is couched in anodyne architectural language and calls for an “innovative, creative, and sustainable” solution to create a “beating heart of the city” that will become the “focal point of the city’s cultural activity,” supporting a “heterogeneous” “target audience” of “residents, tourists, and visitors” while attentive “to the needs of a diverse population, including children, seniors, and those with disabilities.” Concealed behind these “universal” categories is the more salient fact that this transformation will further ratify and reify steps already taken to shut down the square as a political space. In 2012, after the opening of Jerusalem’s light rail, the municipality signed a contract with CityPass, the system operator, which “prohibits the train being stopped by a roadblock.” This smooth-sailing clause has been enabled by, among other things, the government’s ongoing denial of any permits for demonstrations by anyone in Zion Square, through which the tram passes. In formulation and practice, here, tolerance is equated with prohibition and silence, with restrictions on speech rather than its encouragement. The competition organizers attempt to divert attention from this effective intolerance by a vaguely formulated dedication of the project “in memory of the 16-year-old stabbed during last year’s Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem.” As a further marker of the particular species of exclusionary tolerance hovering over the affair, the adjudicating jury is made up entirely of Jewish Israelis, including the Likudnik mayor of Jerusalem, three highly placed municipal officials (two current, one former), four architects, and the mother of Shira Banki, the girl murdered by an unrepentant, settlement-dwelling, Haredi homophobe, who killed her shortly after his release from a 10-year prison term for having stabbed five people at the 2005 Pride march (he knifed another six in 2015). What a sad exploitation of grief to serve such a cravenly elastic idea of tolerance. But the self-congratulatory propaganda that seeks to use one form of ostensible liberality to mask a far more endemic repression is, alas, an old story. For many years, Israeli officialdom has been working hard to celebrate its welcoming attitude toward gay tourists. According to a  much cited op-ed by Sarah Schulman in the New York Times in 2011, the government launched “Brand Israel” in 2004, a marketing campaign aimed at men aged 18 to 24 (posters galore of buff boys on the beach), which was expanded a few years later in a $90 million ad blitz to brand Tel Aviv as “an international gay vacation destination.” The strategy has been widely described as “pinkwashing” for the calculating effort to universalize gay “solidarity” in order to obscure Israel’s attitude towards more intolerable forms of identity. As Jasbir Puar and Maya Mikdashi wrote in the e-zine Jadaliyya in 2012, pinkwashing functions to help the Israeli state “gloss over the ongoing settler colonialism of historic Palestine by redirecting international attention toward a comparison between the supposedly stellar record of gay rights in Israel and the supposedly dismal state of life for LGBTQ Palestinians  in Occupied Palestine.” The ploy is even more fundamentally invidious: Makdsashi argued in an earlier piece, that this focus on gay rights—or women’s rights—serves to displace attention from the larger question of political rights and calls out the canny, if racist, Israeli self-promotion as advertising “a safe haven for Palestinian queers from ‘their culture.’” Conspicuously absent in the PR announcing the architectural competition is any acknowledgement of an earlier attack in Zion Square, the attempted lynching (a word widely used in the Israeli media) of four Palestinian teenagers by a Jewish mob in 2012, which resulted in the near death of 17-year-old Jamal Julani. The incident was itself marked by its own particular version of “tolerance”: As a headline in Haaretz put it, “Hundreds Watched Attempt to Lynch Palestinians in Jerusalem, Did Not Interfere.” That the organizers of this competition have chosen, in effect, to so narrowly celebrate a particular form of intolerance with the commemorative dignity of a refreshed architecture only demonstrates—like the opposition it offers between “protests” and “mutual respect”—that intolerance will not be protested here.

There’s a fine essay by Herbert Marcuse—written in 1965 as part of the volume A Critique of Pure Tolerance—on the subject of “repressive tolerance,” in which he describes how the idea of tolerance acquires a particular valence depending on the circumstances of its promotion. Marcuse elucidates the conundrum of the ideal of tolerance in an environment of violence and “total administration” in which the exercise of nominal democratic liberties (voting, demonstrations, letters to the editor) serve to reinforce the ability of the system  to pursue its own bad ends.  In effect, tolerance—the enlargement “of the range and content of freedom,” something devoutly desired as an ultimate good—is made the instrument by which all it strives for is ignored. “Tolerance” becomes a fig-leaf for intolerance. Such unquestioning is used to make dissent meaningless, purging truth-seeking by offering effective equality to any value at all under the guise of an impartiality that reinforces the status quo. The Jerusalem government—through this competition—seeks to create an advertisement for its own warped idea of tolerance rather than to enable the thing itself. As Marcuse put it, “When tolerance mainly serves the protection and preservation of a repressive society, when it serves to neutralize opposition and to render men immune against other and better forms of life, then tolerance has been perverted.” No designer of conscience should participate in this awful sham, which only insults the memory of the victims—and the heroes—of Zion Square.
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Daniel Libeskind is the latest high-profile architect to unveil a pyramid-shaped skyscraper, this time in Jerusalem

Jerusalem's municipal committee has approved the construction of The Pyramid, a 26 story building by starchitect Daniel Libeskind that will become the city's second tallest building. Libeskind worked alongside Israeli architect Yigal Levi in designing the 344-foot-tall luxury high-rise that is set to break ground by 2019. The structure will be built above the ruins of Israel's century-old Eden Theater and across from the famed Mahane Yehuda Market, also known as The Shuk. The Pyramid's facade, with its half-stone, half-glass tessellated panel and embedded Star of David, is placed atop colossal colonnades that connect shops located around a public plaza. The tapering characteristic of the Pyramid gravitate towards the sharp, open tip that will serve as both a roof-top observatory and a restaurant. Besides retail, the project features 200 apartments and a boutique hotel. "The Pyramid mediates between ancient traditions and myths, while providing a 21st century reinterpretation of that great form,” Libeskind said in a statement on his website. "The design complements the context and gives the neighborhood a vibrant public space in the heart of the ancient city." The project was proposed by Libeskind and Levi back in 2011 with a different design. The original included a curved, wave-shaped tower with Jerusalem-style gates. "We want to bring to the city center the revolution that Mamilla spurred in its area," Levi told Hareetz in a 2011 article, referring to the luxurious mall on the Alrov Mamilla Avenue strip. "There are a lot of new projects in the city center, but they don't create a meeting place where people can linger and meet." Jerusalem is currently in the midst of a transformation into an even more bustling business and tourism region with at least eight other high-rise projects proposed since 2011, spurring some architects, politicians, and urban planners to caution that so much development could damage the city's known historic heritage. Pyramidal shapes have been growing in popularity for high-rise design in recent years, with Bjarke Ingels' under construction Via "courtscraper" under construction in Manhattan and Herzog & de Meuron's pyramid tower in Paris moving forward.
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Moshe Safdie gets AIA Gold and Ehrlich takes home the Firm Award

The American Institutes of Architects has bestowed its most prestigious accolade, the 2015 AIA Gold Medal, to Israeli-born, Canadian-American architect Moshe Safdie. His influential projects—such as The Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem, the Salt Lake City Library, and the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore—have spanned the globe and demonstrated a muscular, yet sensitive style that, embedded with social responsibility, prioritizes the community experience with special attention to the context of a given place and to the public realm. “I think you need to, as an architect, understand the essence of a place and create a building that feels like it resonates with the culture of a place. So my buildings in India or in Kansas City or in Arkansas or in Singapore, they come out different because the places are so different,” Safdie said in a statement. Safdie is guided often by the words of his early mentor, Louis Kahn, who asked, “What does a building want to be?” This question is both specific and overarching for Safdie, leading to different solutions regarding programming and the materiality of a building. Aesthetically, his work brings together different forms—both angular and curvilinear. “Moshe Safdie has continued to practice architecture in the purest and most complete sense of the word, without regard for fashion, with a hunger to follow ideals and ideas across the globe in his teaching, writing, practice and research,” wrote Mike Davis, president of Boston Society of Architects, in his nomination letter. Los Angeles–based Ehrlich Architects, founded and led by Steven Ehrlich, has been selected for the AIA Firm Award. The firm’s work, with its California modernist roots, incorporates diverse styles from other cultures and traditions, which is apparent in projects such as the John Roll U.S. Courthouse in Yuma, Arizona, the 700 Palms Residence in Los Angeles, ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in Phoenix, the Ahmadu Bello University Theater in Zaria, Nigeria, and Federal National Council Parliament Building Complex in Abu Dhabi. “The marriage of the particular with the universal is one of the great virtues of the firm’s design approach, where connections between culture, climate, people and place are woven together in a distinct humanistic architecture shaped by circumstance,” Steve Dumez said in a statement.
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SANAA Shares Renderings of Bazalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem

The Architecture firm Sejima & Nishizawa and Associates (SANAA), in partnership with Israel's Nir-Kutz Architects, recently unveiled a proposal for a new 400,000 square-foot building for Jerusalem's Bazalel Academy of Arts and Design. The design of the new building aims to promote collaboration between the school's eight different—and currently separate—departments by housing them under one roof for the first time. There will be space for classrooms, studios, offices, two auditoriums, public galleries, and cafes. The building is made up of stacked horizontal slabs that mirroring the landscape of the ancient city. The interior features open, vertical spaces that let in optimal natural light and create visual as well as physical connections between departments. On the exterior, the slabs support terraces between floors. Ramps and staircases connect the terraces inside and out. The new $100 million campus will sit in historic Russian Compound, between the Holy Trinity Cathedral and the Museum of Underground Prisoners, overlooking the old city of Jerusalem. Situating the campus here was a decision made by Jerusalem's municipality, the Israeli government, and the academy in an ongoing effort to rejuvenate this downtown district into a cultural hub with a lively art scene and bustling street life. Construction is expected to begin at the end of 2014 thanks to a $25 million gift from the Jack, Joseph, & Morton Mandel Foundation. Completion is slated for 2017.