Building Near The Shore - Architectural Charrette

BUILDING Near The Shore

            Architecture of Israel organizes a series of workshops on architectural and environmental issues. The aim of these charrettes is to clarify architectural phenomena which influence the development of a cultural and friendly environment, in an informal atmosphere.


            The first workshop that took place last April dealt with the rather controversial issue of An Israeli House in Cesarea. Ten well known architects were invited to outline through sketches and interpretations how, in their opinion, one should design an Israeli house in a given environment.


            The current workshop dealt with the character of building in proximity to the shore, in light of the disgraceful exploitation of the Israeli coastline, and the legislative reforms that are presently on the public agenda. Ten architects and a number of decision makers were asked to participate in the workshop held at the controversial overly developed marina of Herzliya. There was consensus among the participants that the workshop’s outcome was worthy of note and contributed to the subject


            Building in the coastal area is one of the most sensitive issues in the field of national and urban planning. Despite the fact that the Israeli coastline runs a length of 188 kilometers, most of the beaches are contaminated, violated or neglected. However offensive, the main culprits in this case are three legal factors: National Master Plan 13 (concerning the coastline); the regional master plans that are often adjusted according to personal political inclinations; and the courts often-absurd interpretations that are submitted by various judges according to their personal philosophies.


            Prepared in 1983 the central theme of National Master Plan 13 was that "the building must have a public function, one that demands proximity to the sea – inter alia by means of tourist and recreation facilities." Various interpretations over the years by the authorities produced an absurd situation, whereby pure real estate building, with no affinity to tourism, is built for other uses, through the encouragement of the authorities. The courts that passed sentence on various claims against illegal building were no less to blame, as they granted legal authorization to construction of a clear real-estate character, under the misleading definition "holiday apartments".


            Paragraph 10 of NMP 13 implicitly states that within five years (until 1988), an improvement and amendment of the legislation must take place. In spite of the struggles that were held mainly by the "green" organizations, the situation remains scandalous to this day. Irreparable damages, such as the marina in Herzliya and "Sea Village" on the beach of Givat Olga, present a living testimony to this: in both cases the seashore was abused in spite of the law and in the name of it. Thus, its legal interpretations create an intolerable situation whereby money compensation can buy public rights - directly by means of high property tax payments, or indirectly by means of applying economical pressures with irreversible political implications.


            The light at the end of this "tunnel of horrors" seems, perhaps, to take on the image of numerous law proposals, headed by a proposal developed by a Parliamentary Committee of Interior and Environment, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. The main aim was to set strict guidelines for the development and preservation of the coastline, in an attempt to secure public access to the shores. In this context it is important to state that the main opponents to its existence are the local authorities, as such a law could remove the control of the coastline from their hands, and consequently, the significant revenues from the collection of property taxes and entrance fees.


            Central to the Coastline Protection Act stands the principle that the shore belongs to the general public and not only to a specific sector - such as local inhabitants or the upper class. Accordingly, building and development restrictions will be regulated to maintain a range of 300 meters to the waters edge, and in the sea - to the place where the water reaches a depth of 30 meters. In this manner, the decision-makers hope to secure protection of oceanic natural values and  a legislative obstacle that will hold firm against land theft in proximity to the coastline.


            The problem is that associations such as Israel Union for Environmental Defense usually struggle to bring a law into existence, while the main obstacle up to now has stemmed from the definitions of the law itself, which is naturally always open to legal interpretations. For example, a judge ruling on the rejection of building plans on the Yarkon River estuary writes: " should not confiscate the shore from the public without a comprehensive survey". In other words, subsequent to such a study (which is obviously subject to normative scrutiny) shore confiscation is totally accepted. Furthermore, building for tourism is moreover based on profit, and as such is obligated to maximize the use of the valuable land, namely to exploit it to its limit, especially through the means of high-rise building. And indeed, along the Israeli coast, such is the character of building for tourism, examples that are found in "walls of tourism" that block off the shores of Tel-Aviv, Haifa, Netanya and Herzliya from the general public.


            Free access to the shores for the general public is a crucial starting point. However, in addition one must ensure that building in proximity to the shore will be terraced, ventilated and must allow deeper urban layers to benefit from their propinquity to the sea, and to do away with "Towers of Babel" that are marketed under the pretext of having a "Vista to the Sea".


            In the light of this, the questions that arose in the discussion were:

1. Whether basing the publics right to the shores on the principle of tourism was not essentially wrong?

2. What outcome will any future law have on the development of the inner layers of the city?

3. How does one guarantee the immunity of the interpretation of the urban plan to economical or political pressures?


            Workshop participants:


            Architect Edna Lerman, who is working on a new National Master Plan; architect Netanel Ben Yitzhak who designed three promenades on the Netanya coast; architect Ofer Kolker who is preparing a plan for Tel Aviv north coast; architect Yechiel Korin - a senior lecturer at the School of Architecture of Tel-Aviv University; architect David Knafo - a studio instructor at the Faculty of Architecture in the Technion; architect Eitan Kimmel; architect Peter Keinan; architect Shmuel Groberman; Professor architect Yigal Tzamir, who is amending the ostentatious master plan for the Haifa shores; architect Moshe Tzur - Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture at the Technion; architect Arad Sharon, a member of the editorial staff of Architecture of Israel; Nir Papai - Sea and Shore Coordinator in the Department of Nature and Environmental Preservation of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel; and moderator of the workshop - Dr. Ami Ran - editor of Architecture of Israel.


            A total consensus was apparent amongst the participants already during the opening discussion, on the need to categorically differentiate between municipal shore strips and the natural ones. The exception was Nir Papai from SPNI, who claimed "Reality teaches that one cannot trust the existing authorities, and therefore any law proposal must ensure visually and physically open shores along the whole coastline."


            Architect Shmuel Groberman (who lives by the Jaffa shore himself) claims "coastal-cities undergo a process of landscape violation actually caused by tourism taking control. Tourism is in no way related to the public right to the sea, therefore all legislative connection between them is irrelevant. The Zionist Cities were built with their backs to the sea and in order to ameliorate the situation, there is an urgent need to include a new vision in the master plans, which emphasizes the Israeli experience" by means of a plain and unavoidable formal statement. Lacking a cultural vision with poetic values, the "pure souls " will continue to bark and the convoy of the entrepreneurs will carry on laughing all the way to the bank. The violated coast will continue to bleed and the "sea will continue to reek" (Groberman).


            Architect David Knafo claimed the fear to destroy landscape and natural values causes chaos and loss of identity. The Mediterranean city knows how to touch the sea and to dip into its waters. Israeli cities have not yet reached their prime, and therefore it is forced to employ laws and bureaucratic regulations devoid of any urban value. Entrepreneurs only fill up the void the cultural perplexity has created. The architectural community should deal with the image of the Israeli city, its Israeli identity and its relationship to the sea. Only the development of a Mediterranean culture can halt the real-estate psychosis.


            Architect Eitan Kimmel proposes to release the shores from all financial impositions. "Coastal strips of landscape are not supposed to finance their own development. One has to expropriate the control of the shores from the authorities and in so doing, to prevent the construction of colossal projects that obstruct the coastline".


            Architect Moshe Tzur proposed to establish a "professional forum of architects and intellectuals, to supervise all fields of planning and

construction. This would maintain the local commission as a mediating body neutralized of financial interests, whose duty would then only be to enforce the laws and to supervise their implementation". Tzur, who built (not at his fault) numerous protruding buildings in the Herzliya Marina, and even won a competition (which is not to be realized) to plan the Tel-Aviv harbor area, believes that the new National Master Plan should dictate the establishment of the forum.


            Architect Edna Lerman claimed "The National Plan should only set a general policy without detailing the building styles". In her opinion, the design of the shores should express "a compromise between the demands of the law and the ability to actually execute them; between the market forces and the publics reaction; between the sweeping ambition to exploit every plot of land; between the need to preserve certain areas for future generations".

            Architect Ofer Kolker claimed that leaving the shore unplanned could enable its theft by illegitimate means. The Spanish philosopher Manuel Maurice said "a city is evaluated by the number of private doors that are left open to the public". The publics right is absolute and the countrys shores have to remain open and available to all. Nevertheless, any unequivocal definition is essentially at fault, as reality changes and requires adaptability to its circumstances". The publics right is absolute and the countrys shores have to remain open and available to all. Most shores should be open to the public, even if they are private. Tourism is an "industry" in itself, and as such it produces "pollution", especially when exaggerated."

            It seems that despite all the creditable assurances, the main problem will remain how to leave the shore itself free to the public and free from any building whatsoever (except for the obvious supporting facilities). Perhaps it might be better to allow modest and light low-rise private building - such that would not obstruct the sea with brutal power, and which can be easily adapted to suit changing needs.


            Expanding on this issue architect Arad Sharon claimed that the root of the problem lies in the "Cyclopic" planning conception that obliges a view of the sea from every hotel window. As a result - every bit of quality shore is taken up by colossal hotels, which block out the city and sever it from the sea. No less damaging, are the breakwaters and the marinas, which are the main culprits of the constant destruction of the coastline. Sharon proposed to treat the shore as a "horizontal facade with minimal vertical construction. The planning model should be that of Santorini or Miletus, and not the relentlessly being built marinas. One should expect that on the coastline there would be cafes, restaurants and promenades. The problem is, that all the clerks from local authorities also run architects offices, and are thus dependent on the entrepreneurs supplying them with work".


            Architect Yechiel Korin suggests that the cliff is perhaps not a sacred line, especially in view of the danger of it collapsing, which presents a real environmental hazard. The occasional modest building on the edges of the cliff will not cause damage and can even reinforce it. The example of Santorini holds well with this theory, yet Israel can also boast of good examples such as Jaffa, Apollonia, Caesarea, Tantura and Atlit. It all depends on the right measure.


            Professor Yigal Tzamir defines the aims of his work in Haifa as "securing the shores status as an asset belonging to the general public, due to the unprecedented amount of construction that had already been authorized by the National Committee". Moreover, preservation of the shores, in his opinion, is a "vague definition that should be expressed in the plan based both on goals of preservation and those of development". Hotels for tourism are not indispensable and thus must not totally be redundant. "It is wrong to pass schematic generalizations of the shores, as there is a need to express the unusual and the unique by determining a suitable architectural code for each strip. The principle should be a reversal of the market forces reflection trend of high-rise building in exchange for low-rise building, terraced and designed according to architectural principles".


            And to sum up the point - Haifa Mayor Amram Mitsnas building plan endeavors to conceal the city behind a veil of residential towers - some of them rising to a height of one hundred meters, by means of land reclamation of a coastal strip at the meeting point of the coastline at its unique intersection (the only one in Israel) between the Carmel mountain range and the sea. Someone has fallen asleep on duty, here is a second chance to awaken.


            Noodles, Thai chicken and seafood concluded yet another enjoyable and cultural rendezvous amongst architects who care about the appearance of the environment.


            Special thanks to the sailing club Sea-Gull and to Galit Ohayon, its inexhaustible representative.


Architect and others who are interested in participating in future workshops are welcome to contact us at fax: 03-6481491.


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