Twilight Of Sunrise-Interview With Architect Amnon Alexandroni
The fashionable clinging to the 'bare concrete' style - also known as “Brutalism' because of its impact on cities worldwide - led me to seek out architect Amnon Alexandroni, one of the originators of Brutalism in Israel. His humble, uncomputerized office in north Tel Aviv has seen better days. One cannot help but notice that Alexandroni’s interests reach far beyond the four cornerstones of an architectural firm. His wide range is apparent from the many black and white sketches and architectural drawings on the wall, and from the piles of handwritten notes scattered on his desk.
As an artist and philosophical writer, what principles are most important to you?
It may sound like a paradox - the 'statement of an understatement' - that is to say, modesty, clarity, reduction, constrainment, and above all - simplicity, as you can see.
You were Avraham Yaskys partner; what did he think of these principles?
I knew Yasky back when we were students, but our real acquaintance began when we established a team for the planning of the National Academic House of Books at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The team consisted of three firms: S. & M. Nadler with Alexandroni, Yasky-Powsner, Armoni-Habron. There was a good connection between us right from the start. When the partnership between him and Powsner was about to expire, he offered me the position. For nine years, most if not all of the office’s work was in the bare concrete style. That, at least in my opinion, expresses all the principles I have mentioned.
How did it happen that Yasky became what he is today (one of the largest architectural firms in the country) after you left the partnership, while you were left behind?
That Yasky became what he is, is the precise reason for my leaving. When the firm began to expand and grow, I left of my own free will. All I wanted was a small, modest office, a sort of studio, with a couple of employees and a few projects that would be under my complete control from start to finish. I was not 'left behind', as I was never in competition with anyone. Life, for me, is not a racetrack in the tournament of achievements... I have always avoided personal fame. I prefer to satisfy my professional hunger in small, easily digested portions, modestly and out of the public eye.
It was not a choice between two equal options that you can say in retrospect which was was right or wrong. The answer is not measured in terms of success and achievements. Paths often separate, each goes his own way according to his nature and fate. I have never felt regret, knowing that life is not a rose garden. And this is not an apology.
Your main work has been in bare concrete. What have been the greatest architectural influences on you?
Two of the greatest influences are ancient Egypt and Le Corbusier. I was exposed to both as a student. Ancient Egypt, with its temples, sculptures and paintings - its architecture is eternal. The pyramids challenge the horizon and create a dialog between man and God. Le Corbusier gave us bare concrete - the clear sculptural language of building with all its primal components integrated in advanced technologies. Le Corbusier integrates his drawings into his buildings and does justice to architecture, just like the ancient Egyptians.
What do you think of the trend back to the Brutalist style, or at least its combination with other building styles. What is its relevance in todays architecture?
I prefer the French meaning of 'brut' as 'naked', and not 'brutal' in the sense of aggressive and threatening. The language of bare concrete is part of a much broader outlook, not an independent goal. It is difficult for me today, in retrospect, to see the bare concrete style as a success or a failure, as a breakthrough or a setback. I think it was a temporary phenomenon that passed at a tender age. When I think of the style, it brings back memories of single buildings in experimental neighborhoods. Unfortunately, today some of them look miserable and neglected while others have been metamorphosized and deformed. A bare concrete building is an irreversible force - a skeletal and finished construction at the same time. There is no room for error. It is difficult to describe the tension and excitement that comes with the dismantling of the molds, when the building emerges from its shell into the light of day. This is what gave me strength to view the work of architecture as a way of life and not as a sequence of fashion trends - as monotheism and not idolatory.
By 'idolatory', do you mean fashion trends? Whats so bad about fashion?
The question is, what price do we pay in order to survive when fashions change and you still believe in it? In my opinion, architecture was never about random trends. I don’t need to be 'in', to be liked or successful. Thats not my style. If fashionability was a necessary condition for survival in the profession, I would have abandoned it long ago.
Where do we go from here?
I understood you came to interview me only about the past. So allow me to answer by freely translating from Nietzches 'Twilight of Sunrise'. He refers to 'low spirits who dont value the best of their creations, neither do they realize their ideas. But in spiteful revenge, they dont appreciate other peoples sympathy, nor do they believe in sympathy itself. They tend to appear proud of themselves, they feel pleasure in angering others with their ridicule. But such is the condition of the soul of the embittered artist'.