Contrast & complement - Interview With Amir Mann & Ami Shinar
As a younger office, Mann-Shinar designed residential neighborhoods in Nesher and Modiin, and the Patio Holiday Inn in Eilat. After winning several competitions in the mid-nineties, they designed schools and new neighborhoods in Bat Yam and Ganei Yehuda. They recently completed the Mercury Buildings in Yehud and the Ikea furniture mega-store in Netanya. While working on development plans for a number of towns (Afula, Hadar HaCarmel and Central Jerusalem), they were invited to take part in a competition for the planning of Hamedina Square in Tel Aviv, the Seminar Ha’Kibbutzim complex, the Creo-Scitex building and the Cellcom Compound. Currently, the office is engaged in design of services areas at the Ben Gurion International Airport as well as several other urban development plans.
Still sharing the same office today, Amir Mann and Ami Shinar are also involved in various teaching and research projects. Ami Shinar is an instructor at Tel Aviv University and Amir Mann is currently instructing final projects at the Technion. They share a deep devotion to architecture – 'not only to make a living, but as an unrelenting calling.' They see their many activities as 'a house of creation for ideas which develop through fertile dialog among all the firms architects.' They say they are of very different character but that they complement each other well. Each brings his own contribution to their still-evolving design concept.
Q: There is a tendency today to plan huge buildings based on urban principles, as if the building were a mini-city. Yet construction of buildings as autonomous objects is also a problem, because it contributes to our growing isolation. As a result, there is no consistency between buildings and there is no common denominator to link the many varying interpretations. Your office deals in the planning of large buildings, as well as urban planning. How do you balance the two?
A. Both fields complement each other, therefore any attempt to interconnect the two requires a shift in perspective. In urban planning, we try to create defined spaces around a central anchor based on an abstract or formal concept, whose function includes the integration of a building within its surroundings. For example the southwestern complex in Bat Yam, currently waiting approval, is organized around a street park that leads to the sea. The residential neighborhood in Modiin was designed as a complex around a central courtyard, and in the religious neighborhood in Ashdod, the roofed-balcony motif connects the neighborhood houses and grants it an identifiable design concept. Also, the two Mercury buildings have prominent balconies, which reflect the mutual relationship between the building and its surroundings. During the various planning stages, the concept develops progressively, in line with the programme and budget limitations.
Q: You make a point of emphasizing the importance of the site as a central aspect of design. In fact, the primary initiative for the plan of a building is a particular need in time and place. Where do the user and his needs stand with you?
A. Architecture is, in our opinion, a synthesis of even a greater number of components. Besides the user and the site, there are also cultural and society norms, not to mention the architects need for personal statement. The human aspect and understanding of the users needs are therefore a very important stage in our planning process. In the Mercury buildings for example, we established the programme only after we interviewed employees and the management. And it didn’t end there: the last detail of the building, right down to choice of chairs and workstations, was established in complete cooperation with the users. And in the Hadar HaCarmel neighborhood development project in Haifa, local residents were our full partners in the planning process.
Q: The balconies of the two Mercury buildings as well as the atrium, which you also included in the programme of the Ikea building, demonstrate a prominent and consistent reinforcement of the visual connection of a building to its surroundings. Central spaces in the building represent a sort of double-sided exhibition window. What about spatial continuity?
A: Like many other architects, we believe it is wrong to separate the interior from the exterior. Our method of realizing this concept is the constant redefinition of the points at which they meet. From a spatial point of view, one building differs from another, also in its level of flow. And while we are on the subject, I would like to stress that this is one of the central aspects of our architectural agenda. In almost all the buildings we have planned, we have tried very hard to ensure that the street-level user benefits from the buildings presence, especially in terms of aesthetics. This is demonstrated by emphasizing the independence and uniqueness of details in each building.
Q: It is difficult not to be impressed by the great effort you invest in the contemporary look of a building, which is particularly obvious in the two Mercury buildings. To what extent does the legitimate tendency to express a contemporary spirit dictate the form of your buildings?
A: During the early nineties when we were establishing the firm, each of us brought in our own personal, cultural and professional baggage. We developed our language expressing contrast and complement based on these differences.
At first, our methods were simple, and were expressed mainly through color and texture. Over time, we developed and our range was enriched. Today, we have much easier access to materials and technology. The language now includes a fusion of materials and the synergy of the old with the new. The use of contemporary materials enables us to better express the tension and contrast between low and high tech and this in turn improves our final result.
In the Mercury buildings, for example, there is a layered expression of the development of materials, from the simple to the complex, from the primitive stone base, through the industrial steel beams, modern curtain walls over a contemporary floating aluminum roof. We have always been fascinated by industrial buildings - old factories, bridge constructions, cranes, wells and water towers that express authenticity, and the simple and real feeling of strength and inner silence. They are not pretentious and over-decorative and therefore symbolize for us the central foundations of the language of design. The Ikea building is a good example of an industrial building which seems simplistic, and the steel balconies hanging from the heavy stone construction in the religious neighborhood in Ashdod, demonstrate that it is possible to achieve a coherent result with relatively few resources.
Q: And a closing statement 'with vision'. The subject of a lack of architectural culture is very popular today. What role do you think architecture plays in the formation of the Israeli culture?
A: Architecture is not only a mirror reflecting the culture or lack of culture in a place, but also acts as a central factor of in its development. This is even more true in a developing culture like ours, which is still searching for a direction. When relating to culture, professionalism is a highly important factor to consider. A serious attitude towards planning, with respect for continuity and past building traditions, does not contradict innovation and excellence.