Overlooking the Ayalon Highway and the expansive Gush Dan region rolling into
the distant Jerusalem hills, a brand new green oasis will soon bedeck the
highest peak of Tel Aviv University’s campus.
Sixteen glass laboratory
cubes, most with transparent windows, ceilings and floors, will stand stacked on
the roadside portion of the building, which will house researchers at the brand
new home of the Porter School of Environmental Studies.
sandwiched in a small portion of the university’s Gilman Humanities Building,
the school will be receiving its own home for the first time since its
turn-of-the-century establishment – in the auspices of the EcoBuilding, slated to
open in fall 2013.
The new building, along with the school itself, aims
to espouse a vision of environmental education for future generations, with
hopes to one day even achieve an independent environmental faculty at the
university – something that does not exist in Israel.
The design team,
whose members won a Porter School competition to construct the building in 2008,
include Dr. Joseph Cory, the founder of GEOTECTURA, Dr. Jacob Grobman of Axelrod
Grobman Architects and Nili and Nir Chen of NCArchitects.
“It’s a project
that began with a vision,” Cory said, during a site tour with The Jerusalem Post
earlier this week. “This is why we felt honored to be part of this exciting
competition together with 50 more offices that competed. We were lucky to
The building will adhere to LEED Platinum standards – the
first to do so in Israel – and embody what Cory calls “the future of
The site, originally a large parking lot, will now only
include seven car parking spaces – five for electric vehicles and two for
handicapped drivers – but will contain a bicycle parking room as well as
bathrooms and showers.
Meanwhile, the building is located on a peak just
steps – about 700 meters – above the University Train Station, causing the
“connection between public transportation and the university [to become]
stronger,” Cory said.
“There’s no encouragement for private cars,” added
Dr. Arie Nesher, professional director of the school and architect by
The university is currently constructing a huge underground
parking lot for the campus needs because it “has no other land for expansion,”
The building will be the university’s first certified green
structure, a decision that Cory said he hoped would spur further green
“It’s like a vertical, living museum,” Cory said, pointing to the
Protruding from the center of the seethrough laboratory
research cubes will be a spaceship-like meeting room. Companies will be able to
rent out the glass cubicles to conduct research and receive assistance from
students; and government officials, executives and other leaders will be able to
conduct gatherings inside the meeting capsule, explained Edny Raz, director of
the Porter Foundation.
“It will be a meeting point between government,
NGOs and research,” Raz said.
Behind the glass cubicle eastern façade is
the rest of the building, housing classrooms and other facilities, and atop the
building’s roof, there will be a green garden with special vegetation requiring
minimal vegetation, Cory explained.
The southern façade of the building
is going to be shaded by solar vacuum tubes, whose receptors heat water up to
100- degrees Celsius, providing the hot water necessary to power all the air
conditioners of the building, according to Cory.
“The energy of the
building is from nature, from the sun,” he said.
The building will also
be making use of a special type of “passive ventilation,” angling the windows in
such a way that allows optimal natural wind circulation, and minimizing air
Employing Computational Fluid Dynamics, the
architects have devised a system that will help get wind inside the building
while funneling warm air out through special evacuation pipes, Cory
“This way we hope to save lots of money on the operation of
the building,” he said.
A wind turbine, which will provide only 1 percent
of the building’s power, will be housed at the site predominantly for exhibition
and educational purposes.
“This building is all about teaching and
showing the tools of sustainable design,” Cory said. “We are putting in many
things in order for people to be able to explore this technology, these
Another sustainable technology that the building will be
employing is a gray water system, where water from sink use and toilet flushing
will be transferred for biological plant treatment to the ponds below, and then
also used to water vegetation.
“We will encourage the students to use the
bathroom so that we have enough water,” Nesher said, laughing.
the school would love to be able to use the water to flush toilets inside the
building, but this technique is not yet permitted by the Health
A garbage-recycling system within the building will also be
partially visible to visitors and students, providing decoration through a glass
wall, Raz said.
In the building lobby, TV screens will display in real
time exactly how much the building is saving at the moment and how much energy
is being used, according to Cory. On the outdoor portion of the capsule the
architects will install energy-efficient LED lights that show the current
pollution level in the Gush Dan region, according to the laser measurements of a
rooftop meter, he added.
Outside the building, a promenade will connect
the train station to the area, and then wrap around the structure and into Ramat
Aviv, Raz said. Four balconies along the boardwalk facing Gush Dan will act as
observation points, where school officials hope to hold environmental
Eventually, the designers would like to build a bridge
connecting University Gate 14 to the new building, stretching over the road and
the existing roundabout, to be named Shirley and Leslie Porter Square, Raz
Even the building process must be sustainable, and rather than
transporting away excavated soil and then bringing back more in the future for
building, a large mound of dirt stands at the entrance of the construction site
for reuse, Cory explained. Meanwhile, barriers erected around the site keep
construction pollution away from passersby, and all trucks exiting the area must
be hosed of all cement particles.
“We take into consideration the
recycled components,” Cory added, noting that the building tiles come from 60%
“The waste of another building site is actually making
our building come together.
We don’t treat this as waste. This is a
treasure for us.”
Once the building is complete and operational, the
designers aim to move to “Phase II,” which will include a center for renewable
energy and environmental technologies, bringing in financing from multinational
corporations, Nesher explained.
The center will have a “flexible lab
design” with around 13 or 14 labs that are for use only when a researcher
actively is working on a project, he said.
The concept of the new
building itself embodies the vision of the school, Nesher emphasized.
Porter School originally came to life due to from Dame Shirley Porter, former
lord mayor of Westminster and leader of the Westminster City Council, whose
Porter Foundation provided the initial funds for the school and is now financing
the new building.
“She cleaned Westminster,” Raz said.
arrival in Israel, Porter immediately began providing support to environmental
groups, such as Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense), and
with her late husband Sir Leslie Porter, she also funded many other buildings at
Tel Aviv University, in Beersheba and an urgent care center at Ichilov Hospital,
according to Raz.
While the environmental movement in the US began in the
1970s, during the height of the Vietnam War and the “hippie generation,” it only
reached Israel in the early 1990s, Nesher said.
“The reason for the
school to be established was the beginning of the environmental movement in
Israel,” he explained.
Initial funds for the Israel environmental
movement was a bottom-up process and started through NGOs, with the funds of a
few major donors – the Porter Foundation, the Goldman foundation, the Karev
Foundation, the Rothschild Foundation, the Cummings Foundation and others,
according to Nesher.
“There was a major need for professionalism in the
environmental movement,” he said, noting that this idea inspired Porter to
provide the funding for a school focusing on environmental studies.
the early 1990s, he and Porter began to work together on the idea for Tel Aviv
University, where her foundation had already established several buildings,
including the first life sciences facility.
“If you want to create and
bring knowledge the only way to do it in a long-term and sustainable way is to
create a school, in academia,” Nesher said.
Because the environment is by
nature inter-disciplinary, however, the school could not be housed within one
faculty, which meant breaking away from the traditional academic structure,
Like the Earth Institute at Columbia, the Yale School
of Forestry and Environment and the School of Natural Resources and Environment
at the University of Michigan, the school would “emerge with different people
from different disciplines,” he said.
Upon opening the school, Nesher
said he and his colleagues had to convince – and provide budgets – to the Law
School for hiring an environmental law expert and to the Economics School for
hiring an environmental economics expert, as these did not exist before.
Likewise, the first environmental medicine and green architectures courses
occurred through the initiatives of the school.
Now, approximately 100
academics work with the school, 70 of whom are from within Tel Aviv University
and 30 of whom are from universities around Israel and the world. About 250
students are currently enrolled in the school’s PhD, masters with thesis,
masters without thesis and international, English-language master programs, the
last of which is concluding its first year.
All masters thesis students
must have thesis advisers from two faculties, to address multiple angles of
whatever environmental issues they are tacking.
“This is the only table
at the university where there are representatives from all nine faculties,”
Recently, the Porter School received longawaited approval
from the university to recruit researchers in joint appointment with other
faculties on campus, so that the school will have faculty members as well as
bring in leading researchers in new environmental fields.
Thus far, the
school has received the green light to do this with four different people,
aiming at nine – one with each faculty, Nesher said.
university system will have to adapt to the changes in the world,” he
Now that Nesher and his colleagues have succeeded in convincing
the university to adapt itself to the inter-disciplinary program structure – a
clear break from tradition – he hopes to eventually be able to fulfill another,
much larger goal for the program.
“We want to see the school having its
own faculty members,” Nesher said.
Ultimately, Nesher said he aims for
this school – and hopefully its eventual independent faculty – to be a “hub for
the region,” encouraging international cooperation with other
“The change of the environmental awareness in Israel is
coming bottom-up, it’s coming from the youngsters, through education,” Nesher
said. “The criticism is that my generation basically messed up the environmental
“Israel is no longer just about the issue of building
concrete and roads,” he added. “It’s thinking about sustainably and future of
the people – where they are going to the ocean, what air they will breathe,
where their kids will play.”