The new Ilan and Assaf Ramon Airport near Eilat is currently being completed a year late. Its designers and builders say that the project is one of the most innovative in the world. Amir Mann and Ami Shinar from the Amir Mann-Ami Shinar Architects and Planners architectural firm and Moshe and Orna Tzur from the Moshe Tzur Architects & Town Planners, two of Israel's largest and most veteran architectural firms, designed the airport.
The Mann-Shinar firm designed the Azrieli Center building at Rishonim Junction, the new Beer Sheva outline plan, and part of Haifa Port. The Zur firm built the Holy Land Tower in Jerusalem, the Arlosorov Tower, and the Beeri Nehardea Tower in Tel Aviv, and the Bayside Land Corporation project in Herzliya Pituah.
A tour of the site of the new airport near Eilat shows that cooperation between these two leading firms has created ambitious architecture, advanced construction technology hitherto unknown to Israel, and also an effort to create a display of environmentalism.
The airport is located in the center of the alluvial fan (delta) of Nahal Nimra east of Highway 90, several dozen meters from a 25-meter-high fence being built on the border with Jordan. It is designed to handle the substantial growth in low-cost flights to Israel, and eventually to serve 4.25 million internal and external tourism passengers annually. 21 million passengers pass through Ben Gurion Airport every year.
The new airport is designed to replace the airport located in the center of Eilat, thereby enabling the city to grow and develop. According to the plan, new hotels with 2,070 rooms and 1,000 apartments will be built on a 700-dunam (175-acre) site. It will also no longer be necessary to use the military airport in Ovda for international flights. Ilan and Assaf Ramon Airport will also be an emergency alternative to Ben Gurion Airport. It will cover 14,500 dunam (3,625 acres). The airport terminal will have 40,000 square meters of built-up space. The cost of construction is NIS 1.6 billion.
"We were inspired by the desert rocks"
The constructed area is composed of a control tower and three large buildings. There is an administration building in the middle on the north side and a service building on the south side. The main building looks like an enormous box divided into two parts, with a patio in the middle. The western part will be used as an entry and exit hall, and passengers will go through the eastern part facing the Jordanian hills on their way to and from the airplanes. The passageways between the two parts will be roofed bridges.
Amir Mann, who has headed the design team for the six years and coordinated the project, emphasizes that the airport was built on previously unoccupied land. He does not hesitate to say that the project changes the face of the city.
"Globes": Why build it here?
Mann: "The situation right now is that there is an airport in Eilat, and all the international flights are in Ovda, a military airport located 65 kilometers away from Eilat. In civil aviation, that's called a split operation. Operating two airports is a disaster. Workers are moved from Eilat and back to the airport. It's crazy and uneconomical. There's an increase in the number of internal and external passengers right now, related to the fact that the low-cost airliners have realized the potential. Ryanair committed itself to carrying 80,000 passengers, and they'll finish the year with 100,000. This means that it's a big success."
What motivated you in the design?
"We started with a box, like Ikea (the Mann-Shinar firm is responsible for the designing the first Ikea branch in Israel in Netanya), in contrast to Ben Gurion Airport, a building with outmoded architecture in the shape of a star that can't grow. We took the direction of a box, and we're putting in natural light through two patios, as in traditional desert architecture.
"In the places where the passengers enter and there is a view of the airplanes and the hills, we opened the constructed mass. This is the only airport in the world that has a single architectural language. From outside, there is an envelope of aluminum sheet metal in the form of triangles, like origami or a bolder, in contrast with the flat desert. From inside, it looks like a cave. Everything is made out of wood."
"The aerial view is significant"
Asaf Mann, who was a partner in the conceptual design of the project, explains the sources of inspiration for the design. "The airport buildings are designed in a uniform architectural language that draws inspiration from the desert rocks and the beautiful vista of the Jordanian mountains, and also from civil aviation, which is linked to developing technologies. The integration of a futuristic mirage in the heart of the desert is devoutly sculpted in the entry and exit scene for the users. These are a series of angular volumes, angular fold structures covered with white aluminum in a triangular model uniting the walls, and ceilings with complete continuity in order to create 'complete' entities. The geometrical completeness of the terminal is interrupted by screen walls for entrances and internal courtyards. The building provides its own shade, like a desert rock designed by natural forces."
Landscape architect Lital Szmuk Fabian, from the TeMA urban landscape design firm, is responsible for landscape development of the airport site. She explains that the point of departure for the landscape design was the airport's location in the middle of the stream's delta: "The delta's presence rivets our attention, and we decided to express this in the design. We mustn't forget that this is an airport, and that the aerial view is significant. The design of the visitors' parking is therefore not the usual orthogonal shape; it is based on the geometry of the channels. The system of paths is accompanied by desert vegetation.
"The terminal itself has a long patio, a bit of land separating the check-in area from the aerial part. When you pass above it on the bridges, you have an end-to-end view of an area paved with a system of breaks reminiscent of cracked loess soil. Between the breaks will be local vegetation with a seasonal appearance.
"The interesting part, which was new for us, was seeing which types of vegetation we could bring. Since there are no plant nurseries in the area, we set an advance goal of collecting types of local vegetation in the area, including the establishment of a plant nursery on the site. Within a four-kilometer radius, we managed to collect over 40 species. With the help of the Hishtil nursery, we sprouted them and grew them. It was important for us to create an abundance from the existing varieties. We wanted to bring as few cultured plants as possible."
You have done quite a lot of urban planning. How did you happen to cooperate with the Tzur firm on designing the airport?
Amir Mann: "Moshe Tzur and I won a tender, not a competition. Each of us planned to complete separately, but we realized that some of the people making bids had combined with each other, and there was a feeling that if each one of us entered by himself, the chances would be poorer. The time for getting organized was not realistic. We had knowledge of civil aviation, and a week or two before the tender we met for breakfast, settled things, and made a joint bid. Against us were ranged Moshe Safdie together with the Mochly Eldar Architects firm, which were partners in designing the 2002 Ben Gurion Airport project.
"We have worked together since then. In practice, I functioned as a design team leader, and that buried me under a mountain of work. An airport is really one very big event. If I look at it, I'm stunned. I'm very proud. This is a national project, and we're finishing it within the budget."
You were not merely the head of a team of architects, but also the project manager, something quite rare in Israel. What does that mean?
"The status of an architect has fallen over the years. There's an entire team working with the developer, including engineers, that is more important than the architect. The architect is no longer the leader. It's happening because most architecture is for the private market, not for the state. Things got turned on their head in the new Eilat Airport. It's a project an enormous scale, with an architect as the team head. I, Amir Mann, am head of the design team.
"It's far away from Tel Aviv, and you have to fly all the time"
"Not every architect can do it. Some are interested only in architecture, and regard management as a nuisance. It suits me, and I do it with love. My big advantage as an architect is that I know how to navigate the budget with an emphasis on and priority for architectural matters. You don't argue with engineers, but eventually, the money runs out with plumbing and pipes, and you compromise on architecture."
You didn't meet the timetable.
"We more or less met the timetable, despite all the media reports. There were all sorts of dates set by politicians, but when they set a date, it's never realistic. In the end, you have to build, and you need workers. It's hard to get workers and supervisors in Eilat. It's hard to plan - it's far away from here (Tel Aviv). You have to fly all the time. This is a difficult project. We expected to finish in November 2017. I estimate that we'll finish in April 2018. We're doing running in now."
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on December 12, 2017
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