Sunday, April 4, 2010

Israel by Design

The Holon Design Museum.

Israel offers many good reasons to visit: breathtakingly diverse landscapes, endless historical and religious sights, and plenty of incredibly friendly and beautiful people. Recently the country added another feather to its cap of landmarks: its first museum devoted entirely to design. The project, in the Tel Aviv suburb Holon, is part of an ambitious plan to put the wealthy but otherwise bland municipality on the global culture map; in fact, an interesting group of international architects has already been invited to submit proposals for a new town hall on an adjacent lot.

Designed by Ron Arad, Israel’s poster boy of design, the Holon Design Museum (pictured above) and its planners make no bones about wanting to create the famous Bilbao effect. While the project might lack its Spanish role model’s interesting location and size, it makes up for any shortcomings with sheer chutzpah, both in its dramatic design (five sinuous bands of weathered steel that Arad elegantly undulated around the exhibition halls) and its programming.

The museum’s first show, “The State of Things: Design and the 21st Century,” opened festively in the presence of Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, along with international guests like Liz Diller of Diller and Scofidio + Renfro and the Spanish design wiz Jaime Hayon. For 35 shekels, the paying public can browse the museum with a state-of-the-art touch-screen audiovisual guide in hand and admire the display, which was pulled together by a group of international guest curators (Aric Chen, Julie Lasky, Garth Walker, led by Barbara Bloemink, formerly of the Cooper-Hewitt).

“The State of Things: Design and the 21st Century.”

It’s an eclectic mix of more than 100 pieces from the last three years, including iconic designs by industry bigwigs like the Campana brothers, Ingo Maurer, Maarten Baas and Jaime Hayon, as well as some pleasant surprises, like Andreas Angelidakis’s gold-foil chair. (Arad’s own designs were conspicuously absent.) Such an ambitious and high-profile opening sets the bar high for what’s to come in the future, and it’ll be interesting to see how the museum’s program will evolve over the next couple of years, during which time its staff plans to build up its permanent collection. After all, according to the artistic director Galit Gaon, the Holon Design Museum’s mission is to “educate the Israeli public about design.”

Not that Tel Aviv needs any further education in design or architecture — there are two important architecture schools in the metropolitan area, a Preston Scott Cohen-designed addition will open soon at the Tel Aviv Museum, and the Bauhaus district, which lines the area around Boulevard Rothschild, has a remarkable architectural heritage. Given the pride the city takes in it, the Bauhaus district sometimes seems surprisingly under-renovated. Less than 50 percent of it has been fully restored, including the beautifully modest former town hall on Kikar Bialik and the expensively refurbished Pagoda House, near Tel Aviv’s niftiest boutique hotel and restaurant, The Montefiore. The Pagoda House, built by the architect Alexander Levy in 1925, is said to be owned by an elusive Swedish billionaire who won’t let anyone photograph its interiors, which only adds to its allure.

Equally alluring — a few minutes south of Tel Aviv — is the predominantly Arab port city of Yaffa, with its lively small streets, flea market, delicious hummus restaurants (Ali Karavan, at 1 Ha’Dolfin Street, is one of the best — but come early, given that hummus is mostly considered breakfast or lunch food) and a newly developed port area, where new art galleries and cafes pop up almost by the minute.

Even for those who only stay in Israel for a short time, a night in Jerusalem is always worth it. By car, the two cities are only one hour (yet worlds) apart. Whereas Tel Aviv oozes hedonism, Jerusalem bears the weight of history and centuries-old religious conflict. Deciding to bypass the most famous sites — the Wailing Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (to name but two) — I follow the advice of Noam Dvir, the architecture correspondent for Haaretz, and went looking for Jerusalem’s less obvious architectural gems.

The first stop: the Rockefeller Museum, on the edge of the Arab quarter of East Jerusalem. Built in neo-colonial, East-meets-West style by the British architect Austen St. Barbe Harrison, the museum houses a strikingly vast archeological collection. But the most fascinating part is the fact that nothing has been changed since the museum opened its doors in 1938, offering its few visitors a spellbinding (and free) step back in time: the bas-reliefs and signage in English, Hebrew and Arabic (designed by none other than Eric Gill, the famous British font creator), the display boxes and stalls, models, wall coverings and even the lavatories are all exactly as they originally were.

Mamilla Hotel.

Another noteworthy, and considerably newer, addition to Jerusalem’s design marvels is the Mamilla Hotel, which opened last summer near Yaffa gate. Part of a larger development in the Mamilla district — courtesy of the Israeli architect Moshe Safdie — the Mamilla hotel is Israel’s first and only Design Hotel, thanks to Piero Lissoni’s Midas touch on all rooms and public areas, including the spa, the pool, the roof deck (with a great view over the Old City - pictured above) and the Mirror Room, the hotel’s very chic restaurant and bar.

Plenty of reasons for anyone interested in design to visit this wonderfully diverse country.

Source: NY Times Stye Magazine


tanya said...

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Karen Cinnamon said...

Hi Tanja

Thanks for pointing me in the direction of It's a beautifully designed inspiring site and it shows off some great products. Boco do Lobo is also a great piece of digital work.

Great to have you as a reader! Keep coming back and feel free to keep pointing out new designs and websites of interest - or leave your comments on the Facebook page:

Take care!