Apple-style Rehovot campus: Excitement and opposition

Planned Rehovot campus  / Imagin: Rosenfeld-Arens architects

The plan involves 6,500 housing units and 700,00 square meters of business and commercial space in the east of the city.

Another public meeting took place on Tuesday to discuss a development plan for eastern Rehovot. The city's engineering department is excited about it. The plan, which involves 1,200 dunam (300 acres), 6,500 housing units, and 700,000 square meters in business and commercial space, has great economic potential. Rehovot Mayor Rahamim Malul, who also heads the city's engineering department, is a major supporter of the plan.

Rehovot envisions the construction of a new science campus, a science and technology center, to rival the Weizmann Institute of Science. The plan is reminiscent of Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California. On the other hand, the public is not completely enthusiastic. A group of architects, urban designers, environmental activists, and residents are even angry about the plan, and are devising a strategy for thwarting the plan, or at least reducing its proportions.

The new complex is located on privately owned agricultural land east of Begin Road, which currently constitutes the city's eastern boundary. The plan, designed by Rosenfeld Arens Architects, was selected in a closed architectural competition in May conducted by the Rehovot municipality.

The plan is being promoted in cooperation with Apartment for Rent - The Governmental Company for Housing and Rental, in the framework of the National Committee for Planning Priority Housing Areas (Priority Housing Area 3003). Approval of the plan is expected within a year, with construction slated to begin in five years.

Rehovot municipal engineer architect Dalit Harel explains that up until recently, the agricultural land on which the new neighborhood will be located, which has 5,000 dunam (1,250 acres), was not included in the Rehovot municipal development area. "When Tama 35 was recently revised, we requested an expansion of our territory in order to accommodate new construction. All of the land reserves in the city have been used up. We decided that we would build on these 1,000 dunam. This is privately owned agricultural land to which no noise restrictions from the nearby Tel Nof base apply."

Harel emphasizes that one of the plan's advantages is that planning is being furthered in the National Committee for Planning Priority Housing Areas framework, which makes "planning faster. Most planning is with the District Planning and Building Commission, which takes many years. Planning through the National Committee takes two-to-three years, peak speed for approving a plan on such a scale in Israel. Quite a few plans that go through the District Commission take 10 years or even more, and by the time they are approved, you forget where you began and where you finish. It's a long road. Here, you race quickly, at an insane pace."

"Globes": What is the word "campus" doing in the context of a neighborhood in eastern Rehovot?

Harel: "In my opinion, a campus is something that includes quite a few uses. Some people call it 'multi-use,' a concept deeply implanted in the new urbanism. The city can allow commerce on the ground floor, businesses on the first floor, and residences above. You can be living on the top floor of a tower, press a button in the elevator, go down and put your kids in the kindergarten, go down a few more floors, and get to the commercial floor. A tower like this is a kind of utopia. The campus is an idea that puts most uses together, but also a focus."

Architect Mendy Rosenfeld, who originated the urban campus idea, emphasizes that the planned campus will be different from the closed-in Weizmann Institute. He compares it to the New York University campus. "There's no fence, and you don't have to present a student card. You move freely wherever you want."

Rosenfeld explains that when you plan a city on agricultural land, it always tweaks your conscience. "Sometimes, there's no choice. As much as I advocate inside growth, it's not the only solution. Sometimes, you have to grow out without causing too much environmental damage, in a way that the plan will be a continuation, or a single continuity with the existing city."

The Rehovot agricultural colony was based on a network of orthogonal streets - one main street, and streets perpendicular or parallel to it. Rosenfeld explains that this is the main anchor for the plan he proposed: "Every street that existed historically continues into our plan, and from there to nature, to the landscape. Today, Begin Road is a catastrophe. The city goes into a concrete wall. Since people drive 70 kilometers and hour here, they put in an acoustic wall. The plan is to take this wall down. Begin Road will become a city street. We're piling construction on this street and putting in enough intersections to make it a lively urban road."

When I try to understand where the round form of the colossal building they call a "campus" comes from, Rosenfeld directs my attention to an aerial photograph showing the adjacent agricultural land by means of giant radial water sprinklers. "Its main idea, which is why it's round, is for it to include in it all the technology functions, with incubators, residences, commerce, and culture. I'm not embarrassed to say that this could compete with the Weizmann Institute. The urban campus has to compete with not just Rehovot or Tel Aviv. It's something that should compete globally. The round park surrounding it is infinite. You can always go inside, and also continue. You enter and exit. There's something mystical about a circle. The round building creates entry bridges. In other words, when you come to Rehovot, you cross it underneath," Rosenfeld says.

Harel adds that the round building can become a new urban icon. "Just like Bilbao started with one building by Frank Gehry that created a buzz for the city, this building can create a buzz for Rehovot's urbanism. It can recharacterize the city," she exclaims.

Why is it necessary to build a new section outside the city when the existing city could have been made denser? In the end, you have more business districts that did not realize all of their potential.

Harel: "We already proved that we have used up all of the available space within the city boundaries. Urban renewal has a different pace. The spaces are not available for construction. The speed at which a city is renewed within itself is very slow. For example, we have a great urban renewal plan on Herzl Street called the Binyamin Yaakov site with 11 buildings from the very beginning of Rehovot as an agricultural colony. All of them are marked for preservation. The plan was approved six years ago, and has almost expired. We contacted the District Planning and Building Commission, and renewed it a second time in order to avoid losing it. There are so many owners there that we can't manage to get the plan off the ground. We also see urban renewal plans taking a great many years to be approved. It takes a very long time for the landowners to be assembled as developers."

Why does Rehovot need so many businesses?

Harel: "The Paz Economy and Engineering company analyzed for us the relation between the number of residents per square meter of residences. We have reached a situation in which we're lower on the scale than Yavne and Rishon Lezion. The tests say that just like a plan should take care of the residences within it, and also public areas like kindergartens and schools, It should also reserve a portion for business so that the city can function and not go bankrupt. Residents are greedy in their needs, so business is also needed. Every residential plan also has to provide business; otherwise, the city runs a deficit."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on September 1, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

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Planned Rehovot campus  / Imagin: Rosenfeld-Arens architects
Planned Rehovot campus / Imagin: Rosenfeld-Arens architects
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