training base 1

training base 1

Beyond functioning as a military framework, army camps provide a comprehensive scope of civilian needs. Moreover, a wide inter-relational influence develops between camps and their surroundings. Beyond the fact that environmental factors greatly determine the nature and function of the buildings - the operational activities that take place in and around the bases limit the use of open spaces. Moreover, the temporary or permanent presence of thousands of soldiers, and in the case of the career ones - their families as well, plays a significant role in the development of the whole district.

The decision to shift some of the enormous camps from the center of the country fits a policy of dispersal. Its aim is to strengthen the peripheral settlements while relieving the core ones, which are faltering under the pressure of demand that is threatening the open space reserves. Heading the list are: Training Base City currently under construction at Hanegev junction, and the  IDF flagship base - the legendary officers' school - Training Base 1, under renovation in Mitzpe Ramon.

A massive growth of the army before and after the Six Day War increased the need for commanders. Hence it was decided to build a central officers' school, following various makeshift locations. 

Being the base that trains the commanding strata of the army, Training Base 1 is highly influential - not only upon trends of thought and behavior of the soldiers, but also those of the civilian population in general. In a country where the military has existential meaning, the army officers were, and still are, the main reservoir of the country's leadership.

The idea of building a central base for the officers' school and several other training bases was raised already after the War of Independence. 

Training Base 1 was originally planned to be the first stage in what is now called 'Training Base City'. The planning scheme placed square domains adjacently, with a joint supporting system. In reality, only one domain was built, composed of four sides 100 meters long, around a lower parade square filled with the dread of the legendary sergeant, Teito - who defined it, in the absence of a main building, as  'a sacred place not to be crossed aimlessly'. 

Location in the Negev fitted Ben Gurion's dictum of 'blooming the desert' - a concept that led among others to the building of the Negev University, as well as  his own move to Sde Boker. The first idea was to erect the training base city in the area of Mamshit - not far from the Dimona atomic reactor. 

A committee set up for this under the title 'The planning of a Military City in the Negev', recommended a concentration of all the training bases, including the Southern Command headquarters. The plan was based on 10,000 residents including the army personnel families.

In 1957 a detailed plan was handed to the Training Base City Authority - which determined in 1958 that the location was to be at Mishor Hava, at the foot of Mount Aricha - about four kms north of what was then the development town of Mitzpe Ramon. The location was selected due to its proximity to the practice areas and the Be'er Sheva-Eilat road, the water line, comfortable climate conditions, and a faltering town desparate for demographic, social and economic encouragement. 

It was decided that the new base would include - in addition to 3 training bases - the Nahal base, infantry practice structure and an airport - all under one administration. Accordingly, a comprehensive plan was developed based on concentration of training installations, maintenance, services and administration for all the training bases, except for Training Base 1 that was to function as an independent unit.

Though the planning of Training Base City was regarded as a major project of the Ministry of Defense, it never materialized due to budgetary reasons. In 1960 a new committee was appointed to plan Training Base 1 at Mitzpeh Ramon. The programme submitted at the beginning of 1962 included: living quarters, offices, lecture halls and study rooms, storehouses, kitchen and dining halls, education and entertainment facilities, basic installations, target practice, and sports facilities. 

Due to the scope and importance of the project, it was decided for the first time in the IDF to hold an invited competition among several architecture firms considered leading at the time: among them the winners Zvi Hecker and Eldar Sharon - an avant-garde team that a year earlier had won the competition for planning the Bat Yam municipality structure. Other competitors were: Yitzhak Mor, Abba Elhanani, and Ya'akov Shalgi. 

The building commenced in 1964 and ended in 1968. According to the architects, the square scheme was inspired by the Great Mosque of Samara. Over the years other buildings were added according to need, especially in the welfare domain that was originally supposed to serve the other training bases as well.

Great national importance was attached to the location of the base in this particular area, and the architects strived to justify this. The use of bare concrete was prevalent at the time, and concurred with the economical architecture according to which most of the large public buildings were constructed - the Negev University in Be'er Sheva, the Hatzeva Field School and Ha'aretz Museum in Ramat Aviv. 

Special emphasis was given to security aspects, protection from the desert climate, and the recurring formal theme characteristic to the Alfred Neuman school of thought - David Antol Brotzkus (the Faculty of Agriculture at Rehovot), Israel Goodovitch (Hatzeva Field School), and David Yanai (Beit Halohem in Haifa).

As known, the neglected town of Mitzpe Ramon never reached the borders of the base, whose spatial isolation only corroborated its national prestige, although its very existence in the area undoubtedly contributed to the significance of the entire region.

Being the first army base planned by the IDF (the other bases resided in existing structures - usually camps abandoned by the British army), Training Base 1 is a milestone in army building in particular, and Israeli architecture in general. The scope of the project, and the aspiration to imbue it with great social and architectural values, created the basis for gradual changes over its forty years of existence - in what can honestly be called sustainable building.

Until 2000, Training Base 1 served solely for male officers, while the female officers were trained in Training Base 12 (now the School of Command). Following a campaign for abolishing gender discrimination, women joined the course at the beginning of this century, and in 2005 the two schools were fully united so that the training of all land officers is now in one school.

One of the disadvantages of avant-garde architecture is that it creates alienation of the user, who is used to the old and familiar. This is particularly noticeable when the friction is daily and massive. 

With all the known advantages of the bare concrete, it is still widely controversial. The particularly rigid framework of Training Base 1 forces the cadets to put up with harsh conditions. Yet if they had the choice, it is more than likely that they would object to such an ascetic architecture. The only advantage in this type of architecture is the principle of heaviness bordering on flagellation - by the way, not only at the building level but also at the domain one, with the gigantic severity-laden parade square at its center. In this context, contrary to the architect's declaration of 'architecture serving man' - man is the slave of the architecture.

Considering the fact that the concept of building in the IDF has changed completely over the last few years - and with it the perception of man - the welfare buildings added over the years are significant. Among them are: the new synagogue standing as the burning bush near the old one; the more user-friendly living quarters; new lecture halls; and a sports hall that would not put to shame the finest civilian ones - all functioning as an ameliorating factor to the Hecker-Sharon ascetic buildings.

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