A leading travel magazine has ranked Tel Aviv as one of the world’s 10 best cities for architecture lovers.
“Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tel Aviv’s “White City” contains 4,000 International Style buildings, many of which were built in the 1930s and 1940s,” CondeNast’s website noted.
“To accommodate the influx of Jewish immigrants fleeing Europe, German Bauhaus-trained architects integrated the modern style’s affordable and functional building techniques with curved lines and a color well-suited for the Mediterranean climate to create a habitable city by the sea.”
Tel Aviv has also made it to the Australian vacation rentals Airnb website’s top 10 travel destinations for 2012. It was ranked below London and above Sidney and Barcelona.
These recent achievements join a long line of titles Tel Aviv has won in various international magazines over the past few months. Last month, Yahoo! Travel ranked the city’s Gordon-Frishman beach in its top 10 best urban beaches in the world.
Earlier, Tel Aviv was ranked fifth in Mastercard’s 10 most toured cities in the Middle East and Africa. In January, it was voted the world’s best gay tourist destination earning 43% of the votes.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said in response to the latest honor, “The founders of Tel Aviv entrusted us with a large treasure of 4,000 Bauhaus and international style buildings. Thanks to them we were able to apply for and be recognized as a world heritage site. This move entailed great effort and the conservation process is ongoing.”
Really, what’s the difference between Haifa and Barcelona? They have the same weather, both are coastal cities and both are set against mountains. For now, Haifa’s coastal strip is much more neglected than that of its Catalonian doppelganger, but the city is promising that in a few years, it will be able to offer visitors a Hebrew version of the Barcelona experience.
The National Council for Planning and Construction has approved the municipality’s “Waterfront Plan,” a scheme designed to transform Haifa’s beach. The plan calls to make the western section of the Haifa Port a center for tourism and nightlife, as well as a functioning point of embarkation and arrival for sea travel. The plan calls to develop public spaces, a beach promenade, renovate commercial buildings.
For a start, port activity will be moved from the western to the eastern side. Later, the plan calls to bury the train tracks that bisect the city, separating it from the beach.
City engineer Ariel Waterman says that a period of five years has been allotted to implement the project. Watterman assessed that the Waterfront Plan would cost hundreds of millions of shekels, most of which will go toward renovating the existing warehouses.
“We’re very happy that the government ministries understood the area’s great potential. The fact that the committee members voted unanimously proves that they understand that it’s time to fulfill the great raw potential of Haifa’s city coast, creating an international center for tourism and an economic engine for northern Israel and the rest of the country,” Waterman said.
Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav welcomed the news that the Waterfront Plan had received a green light. “This project dovetails with the municipality’s overall work to revive the lower city, develop the port area and create new foci of activity that will make Haifa one of the leading coastal cities in the world,” he said.
On a Friday in the fall of 1951, a large delegation of representatives from the Israel Defense Forces, the Defense Ministry and the “Yad Labanim” museum gathered for a memorial service in the small cemetery of Kfar Malal. The fallen soldier who was brought to burial, Hanoch, the son of Shlomo and Lea Blubstein, was killed in Israel’s War of Independence while serving in the Military Police. The ceremony was led by the Chief Military Rabbi, Shlomo Goren. A few journalists also attended the service.
The unusual attendance was not for the rank or the heroic actions of the soldier, but because of the grave he was buried in: Blubstein’s grave was the first to be covered by a military tombstone, similar to thousands that were built since.
The issue of military cemeteries was preoccupying Israel almost since the day it was founded. The high number of casualties in the War of Independence compelled the state to address the question of the burial and the memory of the fallen. As part of the memorial efforts, in 1949 a contest was announced for planning a formal tombstone and two new Israeli military cemeteries in Afula and in the Nahalat Yizhak neighborhood in Tel Aviv. Dr. Asher Hiram (1897-1973), an architect of Hungarian origin, won and was made the architect of the Memorializing Soldiers Unit in the Defense Ministry.
In the years to follow, Hiram planned the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, formed the first plan for the burial plot of the state leaders and built a long line of memorial monuments in Israel; two are the Davidka in Jerusalem and the monument for the fallen soldiers of 1948 in Golani Junction in northern Israel.
The newly published book “Bemotam Tzivu”, authored by Professor Maoz Azaryahu of the University of Haifa and Menashe Shani, describes for the first time the history of Israel’s military cemeteries as scenic and symbolic. Military cemeteries hold a unique importance in war torn Israel; for the families it is a place of communion with the memory of their beloved, for Israeli society it is a silent but powerful pantheon for heroism in battle.
The first military cemeteries were built in the United States following the Civil War. In Israel, the first military cemeteries were constructed in the 1920s and were used for British casualties of the First World War.
Hiram had precedents of military cemeteries, but none included the Jewish narrative. His proposal in the 1949 contest caught the judge’s eyes because it was simple but symbolic and showed hidden strength. Hiram chose a uniform design for the graves of fallen soldiers, of all cores and ranks: a rectangular flowerbed, 30 centimeters off the ground, covered in stone from all sides. At the top there is a stone engraved with the name, personal information and the date of death.
Every component in the planning and constructing of the military tombstones is loaded with deep political significance: the choice of stone (and not cement, for instance) symbolizes the local traditional constriction. The flowers planted on every grave express the continuity of life – even though in many cases religious families dislike the idea and ask for a marble slate instead. The tombstone’s construction also has a political significance. After the Six Day War, the stones were brought from quarries near Ramallah and Hebron, in the West Bank. Today, the tombs are produced by Bedouin and Druze stonemasons. The only requirement to get the job is a record of service in the IDF.
The historian Zvi Elhyani of the Israel Architecture Archive says Hiram outlined the new nature of Israeli memorialization and distinguished the military cemeteries from the civilian ones.
“It’s a horizontal memorial, modest, and lacks the vertical expression of a tombstone. His proposal was precisely what the renewed nation desired and different from the way Holocaust victims were remembered, for example, which was mainly figurative and personified scenes of bravery and death,” he explains.
Hiram’s name was known in the Memorializing Soldiers Unit long after he left. However, he is almost completely absent from the limited history books concerning Israeli architecture. Maybe it’s because his most significant work remains in the land of the dead and not in the discipline of public architecture and urban planning – themes that until recently were in the center of historical architectural research in Israel.
A 111-room new-build on the rim of the Ramon Crater, in the heart of the Negev Desert, a two-hour drive from Tel Aviv. The 40 one- and two-story buildings are clustered on 12 acres, and most rooms face the 24-mile-long crater. An infinity pool seems to flow into the crater itself. Outside, local stone and wood blend with the desert landscape. Inside, a palette of brown, tan, and beige contrasts with crisp white linens.
An old train track on Manhattan’s West Side has been transformed into an urban-ecological paradise. Over the past decade, Jerusalem has been trying something similar with its Train Track Park, which links neighborhoods that would otherwise have little do with each other.
Architect Yair Avigdor and landscape architect Shlomi Zeevi have been busy planning and developing Train Track Park on the historic railway between the old train station near the German Colony and the edge of the new Malkha station near the Biblical Zoo.
It’s an important link in the ring of parks going up around Jerusalem. At the edges are exclusive neighborhoods like the Greek Colony, as well as less wealthy neighborhoods like Katamonim and Beit Safafa.
Along the path south of the Khan train station, the tree saplings along the route haven’t had time to grow, and the spring sun beats down hard on passersby.
“In Jerusalem there is a pleasant sense of expanses and open spaces because of its topography, and when you walk in the city you feel a lot of green,” says Avigdor. “But precisely because of the topography, the number of areas convenient to use is relatively small, and entire neighborhoods have no access to parks.”
Zeevi notes that Jerusalem’s large parks are typically in wadis – low-lying areas – like Sacher Park or the Valley of the Cross.
“They do the job but they provide an answer only on the neighborhood level. That is, you have to organize yourself to go there, and sometimes you even have to take your car. There are few places in the city where the open spaces are part of the urban fabric. Train Track Park was an opportunity for us to create such a place. The moment you’re part of an urban fabric, accessibility is an everyday thing.”
Surprisingly, Train Track Park came together as a by-product of the plan for Nahal Refa’im Park. When Avigdor and Zeevi tried to set the park’s boundaries, they climbed toward the city and looked for its drainage basin. At the top of the Nahal Refa’im basin is the Khan train station, which ceased operations in 1998.
Avigdor and Zeevi proposed to the municipal engineer at the time, Uri Sheetrit, an extension of the park that would include the train tracks’ route and reach the station. Sheetrit agreed, as did the Jerusalem Development Authority, which got Israel Railways on board.
The Ottoman rail line between Jaffa and Jerusalem was the first rail line in the Middle East. Construction began in 1890, at the initiative of Jerusalem entrepreneur Yosef Navon. It took only two and a half years. The track was used throughout the 20th century, apart from of one year during the War of Independence. (Parts of the track were taken by the Arab Legion and returned to Israel in the Rhodes agreements. ) The track served as a major artery to Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem train station was some distance from the Old City, but over the years new Jewish and Arab neighborhoods rose alongside it, including the Greek Colony, Talpiot, Beit Safafa and later Katamonim.
As Jerusalem developed, the track became a kind of municipal border that only exacerbated the economic and social polarization between the neighborhoods. The new park is based on the tracks’ original route; the width ranges between 7 and 15 meters.
The architects’ most important decision was to preserve the rails and tracks as a major design element. They superimposed on them panels of shaded concrete in a wood pattern, creating a path for pedestrians. Alongside the tracks an asphalt bike path has been paved, which connects to other municipal paths. The pedestrians and the bikes are separated by a strip of grass that provides a place to relax.
Where the park meets urban intersections or small streets, it makes “gestures,” as Zeevi calls them, in the form of tiny parks. The planners also sought to strengthen the transitions between neighborhoods by creating spaces with benches and lighting.
In parts of the park, original railway installations have been preserved, including signs and poles. The architects plan to add more signs, explaining a bit of the history.
The park is six kilometers long, and the landscape changes along the way. Splendid villas give way to housing projects in Katamonim and private houses in Beit Safafa. Eventually, the urban fabric gives way to the natural expanse of the Jerusalem Hills.
“The strip of park is simple and legible …. What changes is the surrounding landscape,” says Zeevi. “So the park’s effect isn’t limited to its physical boundaries. Its sides become active participants.”
Until a few years ago, the area of the park was “the junkyard of Jerusalem,” as Zeevi puts it. Today we’re seeing a process of the city turning toward it,” he says. “For example, in Beit Safafa … they once asked us to put up fences alongside the park. Today they’re asking us to take those fences down because they want to open cafes there. They understand the potential.”
Unfortunately, it appears the park’s design potential has not been entirely fulfilled. One can’t help but notice the low maintenance. And the “simple and legible” design sometimes comes across as monotonous.
Thus, for example, the planners decided to lay rails made of concrete imitations of wooden panels, rather than real wood. (It’s for maintenance reasons, the planners reply. ) It also seems the design accoutrements are very standard and don’t fit the unique landscape.
When discussing parks based on historic train tracks, the High Line in Manhattan is inevitably invoked. This park was built on the ruins of an old elevated track on the western part of the island. The project was initiated by vocal and energetic residents who realized its utility – and real estate value.
The project, planned by James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, uses high-quality design elements – such as benches, fountains and railings – that turn the railroad track into an urban-ecological paradise. It’s no wonder that cities all over the world are trying to imitate its success. The question is: Why doesn’t Jerusalem deserve a similar level of design?
Avigdor and Zeevi note that the New York project enjoys a budget 10 times larger per square meter and a municipality that was extremely understanding of the unique design and maintenance costs.
“The Jerusalem municipality accepted many of our proposals, but today many municipalities reject even wooden benches because of maintenance and vandalism problems,” says Avigdor. “We thought it was right to create a simple system that would link up with other parks in the city. For example, we decided that the bike path would look exactly as it does anywhere in Jerusalem.”
Currently the third segment of Train Track Park is being completed, linking Oranim Junction to Patt Junction. The fourth and final segment, which will run though Beit Safafa, is in the planning phase and is slated for completion within two years.
The estimated cost of the project isn’t low – about NIS 40 million – but is seen quite worth it. Even if the park’s design isn’t perfect, it’s hard to argue with its success in developing green spaces and adding a new twist to the neighborhoods along its path.
Israel is also a hotbed of cleantech entrepreneurship. According to a new report from the Cleantech Group and WWF, Israel is the second most innovative country worldwide for cleantech. (Denmark ranked first). “Coming Clean: The Cleantech Global Innovation Index 2012” finds that Israel leads the world in creating cleantech companies and has produced a disproportionate number of high-quality firms.
Israel Cleantech Ventures (ICV) is the leading cleantech venture capital firm in Israel. To learn about Israeli cleantech innovation and ICV’s strategy and investments, I spoke with the firm’s three founding partners: Jack Levy, Meir Ukeles, and Glen Schwaber.
Q: Israel is often described as the “Start-Up Nation.” Why?
A, Jack Levy: Per capita, we have by far the most start-ups, particularly in cleantech. Although Israel is 60-plus years old, the country’s private sector is really young. Its roots are in the 1980s and 1990s. A lot of the dynamism in the economy really comes from that. Another driver is the military experiences that young people go through, which gives them great responsibilities, great opportunities, and a can do attitude. But the driver that is most important and hardest to replicate is cultural, the perspective that failure can be one step along the way. America shares that perspective, but there are plenty of other cultures where a fear of failure keeps very talented people from taking risks or leaving larger organizations to start enterprises. Israel has a risk-taking culture. A lot of it comes from the fact that the downside is not as strong. If you fail, you’ll try to learn from that failure and keep going. People won’t hold your failure as a strike against you.
Q: In what areas is Israel strongest in cleantech innovation?
A, Meir Ukeles: At Israel Cleantech Ventures, we focus on areas that make sense in Israel for venture investing. Generally these are areas where Israel has very strong roots, in traditional energy and water industries. Israel is a dry country with a lot of sunlight and, up until recently, no domestic fossil fuel resources. Not surprisingly, technologies for solar, water efficiency, water treatment, water reuse and, in the last 10-15 years, desalination, have pretty deep roots. Call that one bucket.
The second bucket are startups that draw on technology innovation and intellectual capital out of what would be called traditional technology industries: semiconductors, power electronics, communications, and wireless in particular. There has also been some innovation in energy storage, a lot of which over the years was funded by or benefited from research and development done in the military and in the defense establishment and then, in the last 20 years, has been a hotbed of more traditional venture-backed, for-profit activity. There is a lot of innovation that comes from those roots and finds its way to the biggest problems of our era: resource efficiency, resource imbalances, and the environmental footprint of consumption.
The third bucket is from pockets in which Israel’s traditional industrial base has a lot to contribute. Chemicals are one area where there is a lot of competence, some of which flows to the water industry. Other aspects go to agritech and green fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.
Q: Are you seeing more dealflow in agritech? Are you becoming more excited about agritech?
A, Jack Levy: The answer to both questions is yes. The underlying business drivers and the reasons to be excited about sustainable agritech are quite clear. Agritech gets to the heart to what people think about when they think about cleantech: doing more with less. Growing more with less, with marginal land or with marginal water. Increasing yields or designing into seeds the crop protection chemicals that you otherwise need to distribute in old-fashioned and potentially problematic ways. These are massive global opportunities.
Israel has already established itself as a strong source of innovative technologies, both in terms of gene discovery for plant genomics and for breeding. The agronomy community in Israel has been very strong. We have seen large multinationals get active in the Israel market, not only partnerships, but also with acquisitions. Syngenta and Monsanto have consummated acquisitions in Israel. That leads to a virtuous cycle of talent that gets exposed to the ways that these companies work, that stays in Israel and comes back here. Agritech is also an area, like solar and like water, on which the academic community in Israel has been focused for decades. All of this makes Israel very fertile, no pun intended, for agritech startups. We are definitely seeing an accelerated pace for the number of companies we are looking at in this area, with strong, experienced entrepreneurs.
A, Meir Ukeles: We are very interested in the meeting of distributed intelligence technology. Think of the intelligence that you have resident in your smartphone. We are interested in the meeting of that with the needs of modern agriculture. The opportunities to unlock the flow of information offered by the modernization of communication infrastructure is very exciting in terms of what that can offer to the agriculture market.
Full story via Forbes