h4>How can Wright’s ideas and principles help a young generation to create better livable cities and human settlements? This is the central question that motivated me to start the production of a feature documentary, The Wright Way, as a transformational film that may benefit people of all cultures around the world. I know that when young people begin to study Frank Lloyd Wright, a better future will be invented based on the laws of nature, which includes human nature.
Wright’s iconic works should not be turned into objects of worship, nor should his writings become a dogma. After studying Wright in depth, his ideas should be challenged to generate new ideas. By learning from history and from Wright, a new generation of designers willing to transform the world can get inspired to create original organic architecture from the city to the private dwelling.
Having visited many of his works, including less famous Usonian houses, and having met with some of his best followers, The Wright Way Hint “hints” at the production of a feature documentary that may contribute to a needed global transformation.
TRANSFORMING THE WORLD
In 2016 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution of 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. They included:
1. End poverty; 2 . End hunger; 3. Ensure healthy lives; 4. Ensure inclusive quality education; 5. Achieve gender equality; 6. Ensure water and sanitation; 7. Ensure sustainable energy; 8. Promote sustainable decent work for all; 9. Build resilient infrastructure, sustainable industrialization and foster innovation; 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries, 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change; 14. Keep oceans, seas and marine resources sustainable; 15. Protect and restore terrestrial ecosystems; 16. Promote peace and justice for all; 17. Strengthen the means of implementation.
It is an ambitious wish-list out of which architecture can play a vital role (Goal #11.) If adopting Wright’s organic architecture principles, the result could extend a sustainable life on Earth well beyond 2030.
WRIGHT IDEAS IN A NUTSHELL
Like Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Einstein, who discovered laws of nature, Frank Lloyd Wright formulated principles which have affected design throughout the ages, from the Nuraghe of Sardinia (1900-730 BCE,) to the Katsura Imperial Villa (1624,) to Fallingwater (1939.) Although he was as prolific a writer as he was an architect, the reading and studying his ideas has remained confined to few scholars. His language is not easily accessible, his books are rarely put in the schools of architecture’s “must read” list. How can one overcome these obstacles while young people’s span of attention is getting shorter and shorter?
What are Wright’s essential ideas?
Nature is the architect’s principal school. The creative possibilities of form, color, pattern, texture, proportion, rhythm and growth are all well expressed in nature.
The building grows out of the landscape as naturally as any plant. Its relationship to the site is so unique that it would be out of place elsewhere.
Materials are to be used based on their intrinsic nature: strength, color, texture. One material is not to be disguised as another.
A building should convey a sense of shelter, refuge, or protection against the elements. Its inhabitants should never lack privacy or feel exposed and unprotected.
Space: “The reality of the building does not consist of the roof and the walls but the space within to be lived in”, said Wright, quoting Lao Tzu. The interior space determines the exterior form. Interior space is not packed in boxes called rooms; rather, space should flow freely from interior area to interior area. An area is never fully comprehended when viewed from a single point, but it must be slowly experienced as one moves through space.
The human body should be the only scale of a building and its furnishings.
Each building has its own grammar, its distinct vocabulary of pattern and form. All parts of the building, from the smallest detail to the overall form, speak the same language. The grammar may be completely different for two buildings of similar functions.
Ornament, when used, it is to be developed as an integral part of the material, not applied.
Simplicity in art is a synthetic positive quality in which we may see evidence of mind, breadth of scheme, wealth of detail and with the sense of completeness found in a tree or a flower.”
Furniture should be built-in as much as possible.
Sculpture and painting are to become elements of the total design.
MODERN, CONTEMPORARY AND ORGANIC ARCHITECTURE
What became labeled as “Modern Architecture” or “Modernism,” originated in Europe of the 1920s. Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe’s ideas, based on constructive social programs, provided with a machine –like with no decoration and easy to learn slogans, such as “less is more,” ribbon glass windows, all-white rectangle walls, and building on piloti. They influenced the design of thousands of architects around the world, some with positive results, many with catastrophic effects of massive housing and urban sprawl lacking identity.
Wright’s work, although classified by historians under the umbrella name of “Modernism,” refused to be categorized in any one architectural movement. His master-teacher, Louis Sullivan, who pioneered the use of steel for office building, had coined the concept of “form follows function”, later on modified be Wright as “form and function are one.” Simplicity for Wright was an end-result of chiseling out the unnecessary, not a point of departure.
For most young architects eager to start building their own projects, it was impossible to learn Wright’s principles and ethic code without studying in depth his writings, analyzing his drawings and visiting his buildings. Most chose the shortcut.
In the 1960s the term “modern” was substituted by the more inclusive term “contemporary.” It included hundreds of art and architecture languages and grammars. Some were authentic, some were progressive, like “High-Tech,“ some were regressive, like “Post-Modernism,” many were trendy, and some “stararchitects” indulged in building acrobatics having little to do with people’s needs. “Contemporary” implied a freedom of expression that many interpreted as “anything goes.”
The Italian Website ADAO (Friends of Organic Archirecture) (http://www.architetturaorganica.org/architetturaorganica/HOME.htm ) shows links to many organic architects, such as John Lautner, Carlo Scarpa, Bruce Goff, Bart Prince, Kendrick Bangs Kellog, Robert Harvey Oshatz, to name a few, their numbers remain a small fraction in comparison to all what is being built.
A ONE-HUNDRED YEAR AGENDA
At a philosophical level, the quests of Dario Salas Sommer’s Moral Physics, Yuval Noah Harari’s New Human Agenda, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Architecture, interact as “a cosmic vision beyond ever-changing creeds or viewpoints that have until now divided human beings according to their geography, their culture or their ideas.” God / Nature / Truth / Unity / Existence / Being / Whole become interchangeable words implying the working and interacting together as a whole. The time is now. As the world’s population grows to a likely ten billion by mid-century, twelve billion by 2100 and possibly 30 billion by 2200, planetary management that crosses borderlines and governments become indispensable.
In addition to all said, mixed-use and multi-functionality are integral components of a sustainability agenda. While mixed-use juxtapose multiple functions (housing, commerce, education, ) multi-functionality makes possible the multiple uses of the same space, and the multiple-use of a same component: a stairway as structure, a column or beam as a container of ducts, a wall as container of storage, a roof as an edible garden.
Proximity between living space and working space are part of the sustainability agenda. Working space can be: a. within the dwelling unit; b. adjacent to the dwelling unit ( see Price Tower); c. Within walking or bike distance from the dwelling.
Mobility is integral to both human needs and to sustainability, yet it demands a total revision of how it works. It consists of three categories. A. Emergency access (firemen, ambulances, police, rescue from disasters.) b. Public use: air mobility and public transportation of multiple kinds: trains, tramways, air tram cable cars, moving conveyors, buses, taxis (with drivers or driverless,) hot air balloons. c. Private: bikes, skateboards, cars, trucks (owned or rented.)
Organic architecture needs to awaken from its long sleep. It requires reinterpretation without falling into nostalgia or an imitative expression of Nature. Although nature remains the most important source of inspiration, it is to be interpreted, not copied.
The planets were aligned in an uncommonly rare position: a. architect John Lautner‘s Pearlman cabin in Idyllwild was scheduled to be open to the public on Labor Day, September 4; b. it coincided with our anniversary; c. we had not been in Idyllwild for about fifteen years; d. we didn’t have a real vacation for a very long time; e. an organic architect from New Zeland, Peter Crenwell, whom I “discovered” while doing research for “The Wright Way,” wrote me that he had a friend living in Idyllwild, Michael Newberry, a painter.
It took us minutes to decide that the time was right for “time out.” I checked for availability at the place we used to go when our daughter was a young girl. We liked it because it was simple and it had a large glazed wall which allowed us to see a forest as soon as we opened our eyes in the morning. I made a reservation for four days of “idyll.”
We did not have any program other than walking through nature and filming without a script, visiting the Lautner’s cabin, and meeting with Michael Newberry. In slightly over two-hour drive from home, we were at an altitude of 6,000 feet. For a mid-summer day, the temperature was about 75 F at noon. The air was clean. The horizon was wide and deep.
Idyllwild has not changed much since we first came there about thirty years ago, to spend a couple of weeks taking classes at I.S.O.M.A.T.A ., now called Idyllwild Arts. A place that attracted artists and “city refugees,” Idyllwild seemed to send a message of lifestyle simplicity in contact with nature, for a planet that can not sustain the on-going consumeristic alienation of the developed world. In some ways, the Pearlman cabin represented that kind of vision for the future with creative simplicity.
Getting in touch with nature is a good way of going back to fundamentals delivered by boulders and trees: life and death, change, the nature of materials, gravity, light and shadow, adaptation and wise economy of form.
“Impacting” is what first comes to mind when visiting Paul McCarthy’s wood sculpture exhibition at the Hauser & Wirth Gallery in LA’s downtown Arts District.
The combination of crafted wood at a large scale and the integration of a Baroque language speaking a surrealistic critique of the contemporary world signals an art mutation
McCarthy titled his works “WS Spinoffs,” ”Wood Statues” and “Brown Rothkos.” The word “spinoff” is precise. In media, a spinoff is a radio or television program, film, or any narrative work, derived from one or more already existing works, that focuses in more detail on one aspect of an original work. In this case, the Snow White tale and Rothko’s paintings.
The gallery’s website includes a well-written description of McCarthy’s show, and also an 8-minute video presentation by Donatien Grau. See: https://www.hauserwirthlosangeles.com/exhibitions/paul-mccarthy-20170701
My reaction to the exhibition was more visceral than intellectual and so is my short documentary, “Tangoing with Paul & Amigos.” I made a sort of non-scripted “spinoff” that includes free association with like-minded artists and some memories from my Argentinean upbringing. The tango music is a metaphor of a dynamic nonlinear fluidity.
I tried to imagine the statues made out of white marble. The conflicts, sarcasms and subtleties they contain would become more evident, such as Bernini’s positioning the “Rio de la Plata River” sculpture in Piazza Navona as fearing that the facade of Borromini’s church of Sant’Agnese would crumble over him. Yet McCarthy’s choice of dark walnut wood is intentional. It makes harder to see the thematic at first sight. The eye is caught first by the craftsmanship and by the large scale as macro-layers of a complex composition.
The abstraction of the hanging Brown Rothkos, made of foam and sprayable polyurethane coating, resemble melting lava and brings a powerful contrast to the statues. They are both at an architectural scale.
Why Wright now? What can a man born 150 years ago, tell to a young generation of architects likely to be responsible for the invention of the future? The following documentary is intended to emphasize the link between Wright ideas and the needs of tomorrow.
At the time of his death, the world’s population was three billion. Today it is 7.2 billion, likely to become ten billion by mid-century. We must confront sustainability, higher mix-use urban density, working space closer to dwellings, less dependence on the car, food production closer to home, flexible prefabrication and self-help.
During the last years of his life, when asked how he saw the future of architecture, Wright’s answer was: “the future of architecture is the future of the human race. If civilization has a future, so will architecture. Democracy was never intended to be a mass production affair. A free life is not necessarily a free-for-all. It is nothing someone gives you. A free life is something you work out for yourself. Freedom is not conferred, must be worked out from self.”
There is no substitute for reading Wright’s prolific writing while filtering “the Wright’s Style” from his principles. There is no alternative to walking through his spaces, to absorb them in their totality – fluidity, scale, light, views, and details. To take Wright’s words literally would be as misleading as all dogmas are. Wright’s principles of Organic Architecture can be understood and reinterpreted to match the needs of our time.
Here is my take:
1. Space is the fundamental component of the architecture. In a profound sense, it is mostly “interior space,” where streets and plazas are the interior spaces of a three-dimensional city.
2. Continuity, physical and spatial, is as essential for organic architecture as the relationship between skin, muscles, bones, organs, blood, and nerves.
3. Nature implies not just the nature of a site, or the nature of materials, or the nature of production; it also means the nature of humans, both in their ergonometric and psychological dimensions.
4. Human scale is the only scale of architecture, and it should not be confused with “size.” Human scale defines the relation to purpose. Bernini’s Saint Peter’s square is at human scale, in spite of its size. Fascist architecture, whether governmental or corporate, is not.
5. Context is not only the relationship between a building and its surroundings; it is also a connection between a building and the culture within which it surges.
Flashback: we were recently graduated architects, influenced by our master teachers and mentors, Prof. Bruno Zevi and architect Luigi Pellegrin when we decided to come to the United States to experience Wright by ourselves. Together with our friend Viviana Campajola, we embarked on a “Wright pilgrimage” that took us through ninety-six of his works along more than twenty states.
Following are some samples of photographs we shot during our trip (click on the link.) They are presented here for the first time. After more than 40 years we remain amazed at seeing how much of Wright’s architecture withstood the passage of time. His works look as fresh today as when we visited them.
Let’s face it: the world won’t stop at ten billion. The order of “pragmatic idealism” remains unchanged, independently of scale, place or time: DREAM first, then PROGRAM and quantify, then DESIGN, and then BUILD.
– For The Wright Way gallery of selected photos, click here.
– A great PBS visual biography of
THE MIKE WALLACE INTERVIEW with Wright, 1957.
– Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings:
– One of the best books about Wright:
Tongva Park in Santa Monica is a unique model of sustainability and Organic Architecture, sensitive to the site’s geological and human history. It was designed by James Corner Field Operations to turn the area into “a new destination and gathering place of great social, ecological, and symbolic value.”
During February of 2016, we were invited to see a performance at the park by Elizabeth Yochim, a dancing art historian who acts in public spaces. The encounter with both the park’s design and the Angelbird’s dancing was captivating.
I began to study about the park’s history. I went to the park to shoot for the second time, but the editing was derailed by other projects and the footage remained dormant. In the meantime, When I learned that its main designer was British-born landscape architect James Corner and his New York firm Field Operations, I started to connect the dots. Corner had been one of the leading architects of Manhattan’s High Line, in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro (the Broad’s architects) and Piet Oudulf,. It has been one of the best urban design projects since Paris’ Promenade Plantée and Parc de Bercy.
The Tongva nation, also known as Gabrielinos (the way the founders of Mission San Gabriel Arcángel called them) were a Uzo-Aztecan-speaking people who moved into coastal Southern California 3,500 years ago. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Tongva excelled at building homes and sea-worthy canoes. A Tongva hut, or ki, was usually constructed with tule or willow reeds and resembled a large dome in its design. A Tongva canoe, or ti’at, was made of wooden planks sown together with tar or pine pitch and could hold as many as twelve people. Ti’ats were used for fishing and for transport to the islands that are now known as Catalina and the Channel Islands. The Tongva ki was very architecturally efficient because of its design, which gave the structural stability to withstand an earthquake.
James Corner’s thoughtful plan based its design on the theme of the arroyo, the local geology, and the Tongvas heritage. The park is dominated by a series of winding paths and modest hills thickly planted with a mixture of native and drought-tolerant native plants. Original plants on the lot were preserved, and over 300 trees and thousands of plants were added to flush out the landscape.
Water features, as reminders of the arroyo, are potable, so that children can play in them. LED lighting reduces energy use, and materials were carefully selected to focus on non-tropical hardwoods that have been sustainably forested. Local aggregates and stone, recycled content materials, low-VOC paints, sealants, and adhesives, and soy-based anti-graffiti coatings are all components of this green symphony. A small park right at the foot of City Hall is called Ken Genser Square, in honor of the city’s late mayor. The fountain at its main entrance seems to be a favorite gathering place for seagulls.
The central public art feature by artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Weather Field No. 1, is a site-specific sculpture composed of 49 telescoping stainless steel poles aligned in a highly ordered grid. Each pole supports a weather vane and anemometer. These finely tuned instruments are designed to accurately respond to prevailing wind conditions. Weather Field strikes a balance between the order of the instrument grid and the unpredictable response of its kinetic elements to produce its own microclimate. It is a constant reminder of our connection to both local and global conditions.
I went to shoot for the third time. I decided that the time had come to produce a short documentary that would link the park with people, with the invisible spirit of the Tongvas, and with the metaphor of the Angelbird.
Normality “Lo-Normali” (ambiguous Hebrew slang for ‘abnormal, crazy, exceptional, wonderful, insane, magnificent) synthesizes itwo previously published documentaries, “The City that Never Sleeps” and “Jerusalem Journal.” Although the editing is different, the message remains the same. It presents contrasts between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and within each of the two cities as a showcase intended to defeat misconceptions about Israel’s reality.
Normality usually does not produce headlines. Stories related to terrorism, war and political scandals on the negative side, and innovations in science and technology on the positive does. During the five months that I spent in Israel in 2016, a focused my attention on capturing images of everyday life: riding a bus, walking by the beach, witnessing some of Israel’s unique events, such as having the entire population standing still for two minutes at the sound of the sirens during Memorial and Holocaust remembrance days, and the Pride Parade and White Night in Tel Aviv.
Although the two largest cities represent only a part of Israel’s reality, the contrast between the two make more legible the country’s complexity, usually oversimplified with reports on conflicts – right versus left, religious versus secular, sacred versus profane, Palestinians versus Israelis.
Israel is a unique country in a unique situation. That is why its normality is simply “Lo-Normali.”
Normal everyday life in Israel is rarely portrayed by the media, which, understandably, is more interested in newsworthy extreme situations such as terror, war, disasters and scandals on the downside, and discoveries in science and technology on the positive. As an alternative, during my five-month journey in Israel, I focused mainly on documenting aspects of Israel’s everyday life.
I lived in Ramat Aviv. Therefore, most of my shooting happened in the Nonstop City. Yet I also went several times to Jerusalem, which is for me the most complex conurbation I know. Although I visited other parts of Israel, I decided to focus my filmmaking on the contrast between these two cities and within each.
When I learned about a video contest titled “Inspired by Israel,” I decided to submit a 5-minute video, which I’ll include here once the competition is over. In the meantime, the 29-second trailer will give you some idea of the documentary content.
The premiere of “A Plastic Ocean” at the Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills signaled the beginning of the long march of an eye-opener documentary, that shows to what degree we all contribute to pollute the ocean every day. The film was shot in twenty different locations around the world and took four years to produce.
A Brief Story of a Vision
“While doing research on solutions for sustainable mixed-use urban corridors, I came to foresee the advantage of incorporating a food-growth area integrated to the common spaces of the habitat at arm length of people’s home.”
In a brief story of her vision, Ruth brings us the case of urban farming as a growing movement to tackle problems that the world faces in the 21st century. Her story is personal. She tells us how her vision evolved from childhood experiences in the Romanian countryside, to her life in Rome, to the mentorships of Zevi and Pellegrin, to her fascination with Wright’s thinking and works, to her practice as an architect, to her discovery of Permaculture, to her new passion for urban farming and local edible gardens.
She posed to herself some critical questions:
- How can urban farming contribute to make the world a better place?
- What is the connection between architecture, planning and urban farming?
- What can each of us do to become self-reliable on the food we put on our table?
- How can edible gardens become a design component integrated to urban development?
- How can urban farming provide a stage for social interaction?
Some facts may help to put a global problem into perspective:
- The First Agriculture Revolution started about 10,000 years ago. As nomads settled, cities were born. Until about a century ago, they were surrounded by farms, which supplied its population with fresh food.
- As the world’s population grew from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 7.5 billion today, the way we feed ourselves was transformed radically. Industrialized farming brought us ecological degradation, aggravated by the massive use of toxic chemicals. In addition, the path of food from the farm to the city became dependent on carbon-based fuel for transportation.
- As the temperatures will continue to raise, climate change is likely to expand the areas of drought hurricanes and floods, diminishing the existing cultivable areas.
- Today’s global growth is about 75 million a year. We are likely to reach ten billion around by 2050. Too far away? Not really! That is just “around the corner.” By 2050, children born today will be in their thirties.
- One acre of land is needed to feed one person for one year. By 2050 we will need additional not-yet-existing cultivable land of about 10 million km2, equal to the size of the United States.
How shall we continue to feed the planet? How shall we invent the future while we free cultivable land from the voracious appetite of urban sprawl? If we want to create a decent living environment, action is needed NOW. Here are some possibilities:
- Increase mixed-use urban density along urban corridors.
- Create cultivable areas within residential multi-family buildings, office buildings, schools, factories, hotels, etc.
- Design common edible gardens as places for social interaction.
- Design workspaces that provide edible gardens to its tenants.
- Plan neighborhoods that include collective cultivable areas.
- Build multi-story farms.
Vertical Farming – Rendering: Blake Kurasek
No single solution can fit all needs. The use of eco-friendly lightweight hydroponic systems that consume 90% less water than traditional farming can be incorporated into the built environment.
On the other hand, permaculture, first developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, brings a holistic approach that combines agricultural and social design principles. By increasing our awareness of “thinking globally and acting locally,” each of us can contribute to make the world a better place to inhabit.
Tel Aviv, “The City that Never Sleeps,” is on its way to become one of the world’s great metropolitan areas. It projects a sense of informal freedom, in plain contrast with the distortions frequently delivered by the media.
Cities are not just compilations of buildings, streets and open spaces; they are – or they are supposed to be – places where people can increase their chances of self-realization as happy human beings. The “State of Tel Aviv,” as is commonly labeled, to distinguish it from the rest of the country, is a city that looks more into the future than into the past.
The fourteen-hour non-stop flight from LAX to TLV brought me back to a place that has changed in many ways. Yet in spite of Israel’s contradictions, inequalities and extremes, I found the country exceptionally better than when I left it, back in 2001. Its energy cannot be described neither visually nor in writing; it must be felt.
I saw people of all ages, colors and countries of origin. I saw construction going on everywhere, with high-rise buildings becoming commonplace, and not only in Tel Aviv. During an “Architect’s Day Symposium” at the Cinematheque, the City’s Director of Planning told us that, at this time, there are in plan-check residential and commercial projects for a total of almost eight million square meters, or about 86 million square feet. That is the equivalent of four hundred twenty-story high building on the Wilshire Corridor.
The new wing of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, designed by architect Preston Scott Cohen as an addition to the museum’s Main Building, is the latest development in a process that started in the 1930s, when the city’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, created a municipal art museum in his own house.
The project’s main concept was the creation of an 87-foot-high atrium, called “the lightfall,” which brings natural light deep into the building. The program for the new addition was demanding. Rectangular galleries had to fit into a triangular site, which also had to accommodate a new art library that takes one third of the total 200,000 square feet, or about 18,000 square meters.
One may argue whether the design belongs to the trend triggered by the “Bilbao Effect,” which resonates in the works of Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind. Yet, in spite of the building’s trendy aspects, the use of light in the atrium brings a poetic contribution to the building.
Ramat Aviv, the North Tel Aviv neighborhood, is a place of normality within abnormality. At its center is Neveh Avivim, where many notorious people lived, among them Prime Minister Ytzhak Rabin and President Shimon Peres. Besides being close to the sea, it has a powerful anchor: the Tel Aviv University campus, which serves as a magnet to a highly educated population. It is also strategically located next to important arteries of mobility.
Tel Aviv’s 18th annual Pride Parade was officially titled “Women for Change.” Although it joins similar manifestations around the world to assert tolerance and equal rights for all, this event, under the particular situation of the Middle East, and given Israel’s political map, is not just about personal liberty. It is about freedom from coercion of any kind. It has the symptoms of a revolt against all establishments.
Tel Aviv’s “White Night,” unlike its siblings “Nuit Blanche,” “Notte Bianca,” “La Noche en Blanco,” “Noaptea Alba,” and so on, carries a powerful message to many who still have hard time to accept Israel as a vibrant civilization. It sais: we, the people, young, old, men, women, straight and gay, secular and religious, Jews, Muslims, Christians and atheists, enjoy life and contribute to culture and any way we can.”
The festival was spread throughout the city. I counted at least eighteen areas, from the City Harbor, the University of Tel Aviv and the Haaretz Museum in the north, to Jaffa in the south, from the beaches in the west to the new Sarona development area in the east. They included dancing, theater for adults and children, artworks, music, public singing, magic, image projections, DJ’s stages, art events, poetry readings, exhibitions and street performances. My video covers only a fraction of what went on, an approximately ten-kilometer walk along Rothschild Blvd., the Habima Square, Dizengoff Street and Rabin Square.
My observations through the lens of a camera tried to capture some of the elements that reflect some aspects of a country that is a mosaic of cultures, tribes and ideas, frequently clashing to one another: right (nationalist, secular or religious) vs. left (liberal-progressive,) orthodox-religious vs. secular-cosmopolitan, straight vs. gay, machismo vs. feminism. And yet, coexistence is possible, in spite of the many differences.
My love affair with Jerusalem has been a long one. It is actually linked to love. On September 4, 1966, I married Ruth under the sky of Jerusalem, by the University of Jerusalem’s synagogue. Designed by architects Rau and Resnick, it was, at that time, the only modern synagogue in the city. Although we were not residents of Jerusalem and we are not religious, the choice of the place was a conscious decision to symbolically integrate love, history and architecture.
During the Six Day War we were students of architecture in Rome. We managed to land in Israel on June 27, 1967, just on time to be at the Jaffa Gate on June 29, at noon, when the gates were first opened to the Jews following nineteen years of Jordanian occupation.
Between then and now, forty-nine years had gone by. During this period I visited the city on many times occasions. This time however, I wanted to see with new eyes some places that I knew (the Old City, the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book, the Machane Yehuda market) and to explore some architectural works that I had not been at (Safdie’s Yad Vashem and the Mamilla Mall, the Karmi brothers’ Supreme Court and Calatrava’s Cord Bridge.) Above all, I wanted to observe people. During three non-consecutive days I walked throughout the city miles upon miles and also used the new light rail. I traveled with people of all walks of life, ages and belief systems. I heard chatting in Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, English, Italian…the list of languages and ethnicities goes on and on.
I could have spent years studying Jerusalem’s Old City’s many layers, which exceeds the multiple layers of Rome, a place where I lived for seven years. I knew that I wanted to visit the Holy Sepulcher and the Western Wall, but most of all I wanted to immerse myself into the labyrinth of its streets. On one of these I got lost and ended up walking into the Al-haram ash-Sharif, or the Temple Mount, as it is known in English.
I had been there before and knew my way around. As I took off my shoes to walk into the Dome, I was asked by the guard “Are you Jewish?” I said, “Yes.” “You can’t be here,” he said. He asked me to seat and called Arab security. I was politely detained for about half hour, and was then escorted to leave the place through the same gate from which I had walked in. Two Palestinian guards stood there. The officer who accompanied me asked them “why did you let him in?” “He looked Arab,” one of the guards said. That was a first: “An Arab of Russian ancestry!” Maybe we come from the same pull of genes, who knows?
I found Calatrava’s bridge beautiful, in spite of some criticism that “it does not belong there.” I think it does. I think that it added another layer of uniqueness to the city. I found Safdie’s Holocaust Museum “sign into the land” powerful and appropriate for the unspeakable drama that it contains. I think also that Ram Karmi (for whom I worked for as a young architect) and Ada Karmi-Melamede’s Supreme Court are not only a remarkable piece of architecture, but also well integrated to the site. I was surprise to see that the building was smaller than I imagined it.
The revisit to the Shrine of the Book did not disappoint me. I think that it withstands well the test of time. It is remarkable that a man like Friedrich Kiesler, an Austro-Hungarian artist, theater designer and sculptor who lived in New York, made out of his first and last architectural work one of the city’s best.
Moshe Safdie made it again in his design of the Mamilla Mall and hotel. Although it contains the same type of brands that one can find in shopping centers around the world, this open mall uniquely “belongs to the place” without recurring to gimmicks.
My seventh and last film on Israel for this period, “Jerusalem Journal,” illustrates through images more than I could ever put into words.