"Tel Aviv's buildings are a treasure"

Tel Aviv Ahad Ha'Am St. Photo: Yoaz Development

Architect Nitza Smok's study led to UNESCO's proclamation of Tel Aviv as a World Heritage Site but she wishes she had marked more buildings for preservation.

The demolishing of the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv a week ago reignited the argument about preservation of monuments and the demolishing of public buildings in Israel, especially in Tel Aviv.

Architect Nitza Smok, who assembled the preservation team at the Tel Aviv municipality engineering administration in the early 1990s, conducted the first comprehensive survey of buildings for preservation in the city, and initiated and promoted the city's statutory preservation program, admits that in retrospect she would have put many more buildings on the preservation list.

"Had I prepared the list today, there would be twice as many," she says. "For example, I didn't include the Bialik school (located at the corner of Levinsky Street and Har Zion Street, it was demolished a decade ago), because I never imagined that anyone would demolish it. They demolished it because they thought that it would cost too much to fix the concrete, so they lost a valuable property. We concentrated first of all on Bauhaus buildings. We did deal with the later periods, but only the icons: Zionist Organization of American House and the El Al building. We didn't distinguish between public and private. In any case, I don't know whether I would have put the Dolphinarium on the list."

"I don't give up"

Smok also did the extensive study that led to Tel Aviv being declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2003.

"Globes": The preservation plan has enormous cultural, planning, and even real estate significance that cannot be predicted.

Smok: "It's a matter of timing, and also involves my character. I don't give up, and when I start something, I finish it. We have a treasure of international architecture. The collection of architecture in Tel Aviv is very great in both quantity and area. There are stunning examples in Haifa, but it's in Hadar. In Jerusalem it's Rehavia and in Tel Aviv it's really the entire city. It's a treasure."

Some say that the Bauhaus fulfilled a cultural need. They connected it to the first Intifada, rejection of the East, and the desire to connect with European culture.

"That may be true for a limited group. The real estate people and ordinary residents regard it as a plague because it limits their freedom of action. When we started working, you could connect three or four properties in the city center and build a tower. We spoiled it for them.

"The UNESCO declaration was the greatest achievement, because it put a stop to that. It established that the urban fabric was important. When we started the preservation plan, we marked buildings (the Tel Aviv 2650 plan marked 1,200 buildings for various degrees of preservation, G.N.). Had I begun it now, the number would be double. The UNESCO declaration established a buffer zone that protects the declared area and said that towers would not be built there - that the urban fabric could no longer be damaged."

But everything connected to Bauhaus buildings has now become popular real estate.

"It took 15 years. Already towards the end of my term, lawyers used to call up looking for properties to invest in. They had no interest in the building or the spaces. It became proof of the quality of the renovations."

Some claim that your preservation list skipped over southern Tel Aviv and Jaffa and created a White City and a Black City.

"They hired me in 1990 to work half time. It wasn't even the Engineering Administration that hired me; it was the Tel Aviv Foundation. They enabled me to draw up the list. They planned a conference for preserving 10 buildings; that was all. They thought that this was a tax that should be paid for having Bauhaus in Tel Aviv. It wasn't as if there was a clear vision. We saw where there was a mass, where one building talked to another, and where there was less. I didn't get a mandate to go to Jaffa and southern Tel Aviv, or for eclectic architecture."

When you look at the buildings for preservation in Tel Aviv, those that have been given additions above and at the sides, you can see different approaches to the interface. What do you think about it?

"We were just beginning then, and I didn't form just one policy. The thing is the rift between the old and the new. I was in favor of it not being clear cut, for the three bottom floors being a base for a new statue. That's what's happening now. Most architects think of the roof of a building as a smooth board. There's no separation in my projects. It's not a new field that you build on. The severe breaks created a house on top of a house. In my opinion, this is an undesirable effect for a city. Bauhaus buildings create a special Tel Aviv atmosphere. Some additions are violent and take over the building downwards. The new hats bring a completely different atmosphere."

How do you explain the fact that Tel Aviv is the only city in Israel with a statutory preservation list? There are quite a few exceptional buildings in Haifa, Ramat Gan, and Jerusalem, too.

"It could be a constellation related to the mix of people. The city engineers were on my side and the mayor was on my side. There was a coalition of positive forces. It was the force of many people together, and we managed to push it through. It was clear to us that if we didn't bring the plan up for approval, it wouldn't last. The extensions under Sections 77-78 couldn't have been continued indefinitely."

Traveling exhibition

A week ago, an exhibition assembled by Smok in 2004 on Tel Aviv's preservation-marked buildings went on display in the MAXXI Museum - the national 21st century art museum in Rome. The exhibition, which is traveling between cities around the world, provided an excellent reason for talking to Smok about the state of preservation in Tel Aviv and in general.

How is the traveling exhibition being received in various places overseas?

The declaration of Tel Aviv as the White City was in 2003. There are always official celebrations a year afterwards on the declared site. The exhibition, which I collected together with Tal Eyal, Smadar Timor, and Noa Karavan, was first displayed in the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion at the Tel Aviv Museum in 2004, and has traveled from there to 15 locations. At the recent opening in Rome, MAXXI Museum president Giovanna Melandri drew a connection between the exhibition and the events in Gaza. The ambassador and I were silent. Eventually, people are able to separate culture from politics."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 28, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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Tel Aviv Ahad Ha'Am St. Photo: Yoaz Development
Tel Aviv Ahad Ha'Am St. Photo: Yoaz Development
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