WHERE TIME STANDS STILL
The Renewal Plan for Lifta
A few years ago, a locked up
synagogue abandoned in the middle of a prayer service during World War II was
The ongoing dispute between the
Palestinians and the Israelis propaganda is irrelevant. Both distort reality
to suit their political agendas, especially in their campaigns for
A visit to Lifta reveals an organic settlement where the village pace of life is almost tangible; a place where one can still experience the wealth of architectural spaces - homes, streets, a spring, oil-presses, a cemetery, a school, workshops, inn and a mosque that has endured years of evolution.
What is there today is mainly an Arab village that developed during the 19th century. The village is comprised of a nucleus bulk of stone houses densely situated side by side along the main street, and gradually growing sparse towards the periphery. Although a clear model of traditional nucleus development, the site bears evidence of much older civilizations, even as far as Byzantine or crusader built forms. The location of the mosque on the outskirts of the nucleus, the distance of the spring from the village center, the two-way direction of the oil presses, and asymmetrical figurative engravings, incongruent with the abstract Muslim outlook, are indicative of an entirely different village plan.
Kept in the
Since the establishment of the
During the past twenty years a
number of alternatives have been examined, some of which were even promoted
through accelerated procedures. In 1985 the architects Shlomo
Aronson, Saadia Mandl, and
Gabriel Kertesz were asked to prepare a
rehabilitation plan for the village, concentrating on conserving the buildings
and transforming the village into the headquarters of
The choices in this plan indicate the importance placed on conserving the site. However, the plan was stopped by one of its promoters, then-mayor Teddy Kollek, who feared the Orthodox would overtake the citys entrances and block the roads on Shabbat - a threat thats still relevant today.
A few years ago the Israel Lands Administration appealed to architect Aronson, who was involved in the preparation of the recently approved Jerusalems master plan, and to Kertesz - Groag Architects who had gained experience through the rehabilitation of Yemin Moshe in Jerusalem, and the Wine Route in Zichron Yaacov - successful projects though not lacking mistakes by conservation standards.
There is no doubt that with such established experience, the architects responsible for the rehabilitation plan are more aware of the problems of conservation, especially in applying symbolic terminology instead of an actual reality. And indeed, they themselves requested a detailed survey of the place so that they could get a genuine sense of the place.
However, Kertesz-Groag and Aronsons conservation plans main problem is that the clusters of buildings in the nucleus will be developed by entrepreneurs who will fund their building - commercial center with shops, hotels, bus stations - by the land sold for individual housing on the western slopes. The plans even weaker point is that the planning concept is based on building complexes and not individual houses, to avoid the undesirable phenomenon of 'build your own home'. In other words, the plan is based on development from the whole to the individual, and as such it contradicts organic development which grows from individual elements into a unified whole. The end result of such an inorganic approach may resemble something reminiscent of the 'rural' neighborhood of Malcha, at best, or the 'fabric-like' housing of Ramot, at worst.
The plan speaks of 190 housing units in the first stage of development - something that will inevitably require a supporting infrastructure – a commercial center, schools, a community center, medical centers, and perhaps even a community police station.
On the whole, it is hard to accept a conservation plan where it is not at all clear what is to be conserved. As such, it is analogous to conducting brain surgery based on a group photo. Hence, well aware of the problematic situation, the architects themselves incorporated the necessity of exposure, measurement, and documentation in the plans codex, as a condition for any future conservation decisions.
Despite the architects honest efforts to guarantee the plans conservational character, its success is dependent upon the involvement of different developers. Even if it is based today on strictly defined interpretations, it still demands a far stricter supervision mechanism, perhaps a permanent committee comprised of international conservation specialists. Such a committee will be able to neutralize anyone who attempts to sway away from the general plan - though a legitimate step in itself.
Since the powers involved have
proven they can reform any approved plan to suit their needs, there is no other
choice but to neutralize them. The municipality has proven it is driven by
changing political approaches, and the Israel Lands Authority, whose main objective
should be the preservation of
A number of Templar buildings in the Kirya in Tel Aviv bear witness to the above, as they were granted mercy only when an article about their architectural significance was published in Architecture of Israel (#34).