Tuesday 20 September 2016

Picture Post 57 - Heichal Yehuda Synagogue, Tel-Aviv

Menachem ben Sarum is a side street not far from Tel-Aviv's city hall. It is largely residential with blocks of flats, a large car park...and a stunning brilliant white building - the Heichal Yehuda Synagogue. Sitting rather incongruously behind the car park, the rear of the synagogue resembles a large sea-shell, glistening in the strong sunshine and contrasting with the bright blue Tel Aviv sky.

Built in 1980, the synagogue was intended as a memorial for the Jewish community of Thessaloniki in Greece, which was almost entirely destroyed during the Holocaust. Much of the funding came from the well know Recanati family who originated from Thessaloniki and the building is sometimes referred to as the Recanati synagogue. It is also called the seashell synagogue due to its shape and the fact that it was inspired by the shells on the beach in Greece.

The facade is highly decorative with three main segments each baring motifs connected to the Jewish holidays and designed by Israeli artist Joseph Chaaltiel. The summit of each section is curved and hooded, resembling a tallit. The main doors are particularly impressive and carry discs displaying the names of each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Architects Yitzchak Toledo and Aharon Russo designed the building to hold 600 people - 400 in the men's section and 200 in the women's gallery. The shell design enables all members of the congregation to see and hear from wherever they are seated.

I like the idea of this soft, delicate looking structure being designed in the shape of a sea shell and the link back to Thessaloniki.When I was a child, we were encouraged to put shells to our ears in order to "hear the sea" in the same way that the Heichal Yehuda gives congregants an echo from Gree

Friday 16 September 2016

Cinema Orot - Brutalist architecture in Beer Sheva

Beer Sheva is the largest city in southern Israel and is surrounded by the vast Negev desert. From the late 1950's onwards a number of new buildings were constructed here in the style that came to be known as Brutalist. The style has been the subject of much criticism over the years and not only in Israel. However, in many places a re-assessment is taking place with some of these buildings now receiving recognition and in some places receiving protected status, particularly in the UK.

My favourite Beer Sheva brutalist building is the now abandoned Orot (lights) Cinema at the corner of Hashalom and Hamaapilim streets in the city's Gimmel quarter. Designed by Yaacov Rechter under the supervision of Zeev Rechter, the cinema received planning permission in the late 1950's and was completed in 1960. Originally known as Orot HaNegev (lights of the Negev), the 800 seat cinema was commissioned by local businessmen, brothers Hillel and Shimon Felchinski.The first film to be shown was Bridge Over The River Kwai" in January 1960. Like many cinemas, the Orot struggled in the 1970's and 1980's and finally closed in December 1989 having been open slightly less than thirty years.

Following its closure, the cinema was purchased by a developer who planned to deliver a residential project but a prolonged dispute with the local authority led to the abandonment of this plan and the cinema now stands neglected, surrounded by dust and thistles and acting as a home to pigeons. Despite this, it remains a striking building with its accordion shaped exterior which strengths the structure and negates the need for internal pillars. The play of light and shadows on the external folds changes throughout the day adding character to the structure. It is possible to peep in through the broken windows to see the folds repeated on the interior wall. Somewhat surprisingly many of the wooden seats remain in place. The decorative metal front of the former ticket office also just about survives and again repeats the folds of the main structure.

The Orot may be in poor condition but there is some hope for the future of Beer Sheva's Brutalist architecture. Local architects Omri Oz-Amar and Hadas Shadar have been campaigning for UNESCO recognition of Beer Sheva as a World Heritage Site, representing the Brutalist architectural movement. Shadar is also the author of a book Beer Sheva Brutalist and Neo-Brutalist Architecture available at several bookshops including the Bauhaus Center in Tel-Aviv.

Zeev Rechter had previously worked in the Bauhaus style and was responsible for a number of buildings including the beautiful Soskin house in Tel Aviv.