Israel's skyline has changed dramatically in the past decade. A small country is becoming more crowded, more built-up, and much more concrete, especially in metropolitan Tel Aviv. More and more towers are rising above Menachem Begin Street. The same is true in the center of Givatayim and on the BSR site in Bnei Brak. Dozens of towers are going up in the Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange area, and the upward stampede is atr its peak. Quite a few towers in Jerusalem, Beersheva, and Haifa are also already on the planning commissions' drawing boards.
What is in store in the coming decade? Will Israel join the international race to build the world's tallest skyscraper? Is the race to break the record for height designed to boost the designers' egos, or is there a real need for this mad rush?
The average birth rate in Israel is 3.1 children per family, almost double the OECD average. Life expectancy in Israel is lengthening, and the proportion of the population over 70, currently at 8%, is projected to rise to 14% by 2050. If we add to this figure that the divorce rate in central Israel is nearly 50%, we understand that the demand for housing in Israel is acute. Furthermore, people want to live in the city centers, close to everything: work, school, supermarket, cinema, shopping mall, and everything else, and to reduce their time spent on the road as much as possible. Demand outside of central Israel also focuses on city centers.
High-rise construction is also obligatory because of the shortage of land in the big cities. This is the only way to meet the demand for housing in city centers. This situation will bring high-rise construction to new peaks in the coming decades, both in the volume of high-rise construction and the height of the towers themselves. No one can dispute that in order to crowd people together more, it is necessary to build higher, but is another factor the egos of the designers, who would be overjoyed if an architectural icon had their name on it and delineated the skyline of the greater Tel Aviv area?
We have seen competition for the world's highest building for years. Up until two decades ago, most very tall buildings were constructed in the West. In recent years, the competition for the highest building has been between the Far East and the Persian Gulf, with towers 1.5 kilometers high. In Israel, the competition so far has been local - between the local authorities, the developers, and the designers over construction of the biggest building in Israel. In this competition, we, the planners, should put our egos and enthusiasm aside and leave behind our aspirations to see our fingerprint touch the sky. We should remember that the most prominent architectural monument has a significant cultural and social effect. We have a responsibility to plan good towers: good for the tenants, the environment, and society.
Great attention should be paid to creating an urban fabric between the tower and the environment. It is important for this urban fabric at the bottom of the towers to provide pleasant surroundings: cafes, green boulevards, shade, parks, and of course planning of an effective interface with public transportation. It is necessary to provide a solution to urban congestion in the public spaces beneath the tower by constructing public space on the level of the floors: sky parks, gardens, sports facilities, cafes, a public swimming pool, etc. All of these will facilitate integration between the residents of the towers and between the residents and the surroundings, so that human communications are created, so that it is not necessary to descend to ground level in order to "see people." Furthermore, affordable housing should be included in the towers through construction of small apartments that will meet the needs of young couples. Shared services should be provided, such as game rooms for children, laundry rooms, shared workspaces, and even shared hosting rooms that can be reserved in advance in order to host relatives on holidays.
The urban future is in our hands: we, the planners; municipal policymakers; developers, and contractors. There is a social commitment and responsibility to lead the climbing into the skies wisely, in a way that will benefit the residents in the towers and the urban ecosystem. We will put our egos aside and try to avoid being dragged after international trends, which may not be suitable for Israel.
The writer is an architect specializing in high-rise housing.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 2, 2020
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020