New Rishon Letsion Municipality
from bat-yam to rishon letsion
the new rishon letsion municipality building
Built in the 60s, the Bat-Yam Municipality building is a milestone in the development of the Israeli architectural avant-garde. The young architects Eldar Sharon and Zvi Hecker won the competition with Prof. Alfred Neuman of the Technion. Their building was innovative and bold. However, due to its functional limitations and the narrow scope of the user who failed to take advantage of the building, it soon turned out that the urban utopias could not be realized. Fifty years after having been conceived in the then-prevailing spirit, the shamed building - divest in ignorance of its iconic crest, stands withdrawn from its threatening surroundings.
The partnership between Neuman, Sharon and Hecker began in 1954 when Sharon and Hecker completed their studies at the Faculty of Architecture at the Technion under the tutelage of Prof. Neuman. The three, who loathed the functional international style, developed a critical alternative which replaced the then-current slogan “Form Follows Function” with “Form Follows Form, Fuck Function”. The group dealt particularly with developing the “Packing Space” copied from the flora and fauna, the “bee hive” adopted by Eldar Sharon (and at the same time by Anatol Brotskos, David Yanai and Israel Goodovitch), and the sunflower grid adopted by Zvi Hecker and which later led to famous projects such as the Spiral House in Ramat Gan and the Jewish School in Berlin.
After winning the competition for the planning of the Bat-Yam municipality, the group gained wide acclaim. The building, which was subversive for its period, was based on a reversed pyramid in the spirit of Oscar Niemeyer’s buildings. The formalist concept skipped, however, over the user’s needs, emphasizing instead the tectonic essence of the building designed with a geometric pattern of hollow concrete bricks and blue and red silicate bricks in Le-Corbusier style.
The relatively small module of 2.62m created, however, claustrophobic offices that couldn’t even contain a desk. In the center of the building that was “protected against the surrounding's climate”, an atrium was built ending in tetrahedral forms reminiscent of the “wind towers of Persian architecture”. The ventilation shafts did precede their time, but in reality, the space of the atrium was dark, and the windows, following the sculptural form of the building, were detrimental to the well-being of the workers, preventing them from looking out, isolating them from their surroundings.
The building and the square facing the sea were considered an “urban icon” as in Pompeii, with the city ideally growing and developing around it. The utopia spoke of “an urban square teeming with life as in the Greek agora, fringed with arcades, pergolas and shops located along broad access boulevards”. Accordingly, a small museum was planned, and even a campanile from which to view the sea.
In reality, which as we all know does not consider utopias or the architects that have created them, the areas around the building - instead of a “San Marco square” - were parceled out to small lots of private building, with what is nowadays a parking lot for trucks.
So stands the “innovative” municipality building, neglected and crestfallen. And so, the modern seaside vision of Bat-Yam resorted to cigarette boxes and sunflower-seed shells (in Hecker’s words).
As with the utopian ideas, so did the partnership dissolve: Prof. Neuman passed away, Zvi Hecker moved to Berlin and pursued an international career, and Eldar Sharon joined the long-standing office of his father Arie Sharon.
At the beginning of the 90s, Eldar Sharon was commissioned to plan the Rishon Letsion municipality building together with Tommy Leitersdorf. However, the “neoclassic” building they planned at the request of the municipality was never built, due to Sharon’s death.
When his son, architect Arad Sharon, inherited the office, he suggested re-planning the already approved building in the new spirit of times. The Mayor, who at first opposed drastic changes, finally agreed to alter the plan according to the new architectural vision.
In the spirit of the tetrahedral structures then symbolizing the architectural breakthrough in Bat-Yam, the Rishon Letsion building and its square were designed as two triangles completing a square, at the junction of the palm tree axes planted in 1882 by Baron de-Rothschild.
Turning the square toward the gardens may have been a symbolic act of protection reminiscent of the deterioration of the like square in Bat-Yam, yet the urban advantage was clear: the historical gardens do fulfill an important role in the lives of the residents, and at all hours of the day one sees children playing, mothers with strollers, couples, old-timers looking for a quiet spot.
Contrary to the introverted building of the Bat-Yam municipality, the building in Rishon Letsion conveys openness and urban transparency. The square was constructed as a veranda overlooking the gardens, and is an arena for urban activities - demonstrations, gatherings, speeches, occasional events and exhibitions. The ZDL axis has a few cafes, and the offices stream hundreds of people on their way to the gardens and the adjacent streets. Transparent walls filter in natural light to all the working spaces, and one can follow all the goings-on day and night. Aluminum construction orients the eye upwards to the council hall, set on top as a “space ship” observable from all over town.
As the Bat-Yam building that placed climatic awareness at the forefront of its planning, the Rishon Letsion building too advances the climatic theme, using current technologies such as radiation-blocking printed glass, and an atrium which functions as a light-well and a ventilation shaft.
A red wall in the atrium, echoing the iconic council hall, and Led illumination create a “baroque” effect of dynamic movement leading up to the hall and its public gallery.
An additional building planned in the Leitersdorf office will complete the public complex and connect the municipal square to Carmel St. and the historical winery. Beneath the ZDL Center, an underground park-house has been built to hold some 1,100 vehicles (by Sharon and Leitersdorf), thereby aiming to solve the parking problems of the renewed urban center.
The building of the new municipality is an important stage in revivifying the slumbering historical center. The structure, delineating a liberated style, provides a new system of meeting places, thus enriching the activities of the awakening center.