The Ganei Sarona project is expected to open at the end of the summer.
The 140-year-old ex-Templer colony within Tel Aviv is being brought back
into the public sphere through an extensive renovation process
surrounded by huge development.
In Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities,
Marco Polo the explorer attempts to describe a city named Zora. From
his knowledge prior to visiting, he depicts a city of order and
stability. However, he states, “in vain I set out to visit the city:
forced to remain motionless and always the same, in order to be more
easily remembered, Zora has languished, disintegrated, disappeared. The
earth has forgotten her.”
The story of Zora is a warning to all
historical cities, it is a reminder of the importance of renewal to a
city’s existence. Now that Tel Aviv is transforming into a patchwork of
heritage sites, the discourse as to how we preserve is taking shape and
Sarona is one of the largest singular statements to date.
complete narrative of the Sarona Templer Colony, founded in 1871,
remains largely outside of the public’s consciousness. The simplified
narrative tells of an insular community of German settlers who with
varying success managed to work the land and survive in a time when the
region had little comfort to offer.
Some of the agricultural
techniques brought over and developed in the Templer colonies were
adopted by Jewish settlers in latter years, including pioneering the use
of Eucalyptus trees to dry up mosquito infested swamps.
of Sarona were products of wider European and local movements. Its
population and endeavors being partly funded by Germany brought about
deportation by the British and souring relations with local Jews.
Eventually the colony was abandoned and taken over by the new state, the
old buildings being used as the first offices of many of Israel’s
national institutions and government.
In the 1970’s, a plan to
demolish Sarona and redevelop its prime real estate was successfully
thwarted by preservationists who argued for its historical value. The
Tel Aviv Municipality reopened discussions on Sarona’s fate in the
1990’s at which time The Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage
Sites headed by Tamar Tuchler began its struggle for saving the Templer
colony. These actions were part of a wider process over the last three
decades that Tel Aviv has undergone, gradually finding in itself
architectural and urban qualities worth preserving. The city’s previous
self-image manifested itself all too evidently in the lack of upkeep and
appreciation of what is now viewed as an indispensable cultural asset.
Aviv was relatively free of the preoccupation of most historical cities
trying to cope with the responsibility of safekeeping a built heritage.
Today however, there are many examples of buildings or neighborhoods
that are protected by stringent laws and a special preservation planning
department of the City Council. It is in these specific points in the
city that the tension between preservation and development plays out.
are examples of creative solutions to this tension, for example along
Tel Aviv’s Rothschild boulevard where skyscrapers hover over some of the
city’s first buildings. However, a number of different questions are
raised when the subject for preservation is more multifarious than a
single standing structure. In Sarona especially because of its historic
identity as a separate entity to Tel Aviv, the act of preservation
doesn’t limit itself to a building and it’s materials, but to a
neighborhood and its spirit.
Sarona’s built heritage as a Templer farming community has become its raison d'être.
It is the rural aspect of its identity that not only differentiates it
from the surrounding urban fabric, but repels it by virtue of its self
contained historic value. The preservation of Sarona’s spirit is
dependent on its contrast to the city. On these grounds especially, the
balance of conservation and regeneration is critical to its success.
Sarona project cannot be judged solely on the preservation of the
Templer structures, but also on the highrises that will encircle it. On
Sarona’s South side, a huge residential and retail development is near
completion and it is planned as an integral part of the "Sarona
experience." It will be argued that the juxtaposition of massive
development next to a delicate heritage site is insensitive and
incongruous to its surroundings. However, it is the contrast that it
delivers which will highlight the contrary nature of Sarona’s original
spirit to its current urban envelope.
of historic Sarona, as it is, conserved within limited and controlled
boundaries is inevitable. It is the cost of preserving any built
environment, the act of extracting the space from the more organic
process of urbanization is a form of objectification. If on Rothschild,
the historic buildings become akin to perfectly preserved dollhouses
next to skyscrapers, Sarona will likely become a theme park in the
romanticised image of its original form.
The ill fate of the
Italo Calvino’s city Zora represents the peril of over-preserving a
built environment. Yet Sarona with its emphasis on conservation is still
at its core an act of change, and concurrently an acknowledgment that
not all must be sacrificed at its altar.
The virtues and faults
of the new Sarona can be judged within this framework, one that looks
beyond the inevitable consequences of any similar act of preservation.
These are the creative boundaries that the designers faced, challenged
to balance the needs of the public, along with commercial prospects
against the honest restoration of buildings, landscape, and spirit.
The song “Heimat” by Carl Kuebler, a Templer who lived in Sarona, emphasized the rural nature of the village. It begins: "On Saron’s green fields / Lays a small friendly village / Golden oranges, fruit orchards /Flower gardens invite one in." Therein
lies the discord between the act of recreating an historically private
and insular world, and at once connecting and exposing it to a modern
bustling city and its inhabitants.
Landscape architects Zur Wolf
accepted this complexity and pursued a greater representation of the
rural identity of Sarona. To concentrate the qualities of an
agricultural village that had once spread over a far larger area they
inserted new groves, fields, and structures between the lots of houses
where they wouldn’t have originally existed. These ‘symbolic’ elements
are strategically placed as part of the site’s interconnectedness so as
to experience them through discovery rather than a forced linearity.
Hacham Rafael and Lior Wolf also point out that some of the rural
textures that they had intended to incorporate into the design were
later abandoned for more ‘useful’ public assets such as open grass areas
for picnics. Some gardens of the preserved houses, arguably a major
element in the community's heritage had to be partially paved over for
the commercial use of cafe and restaurant seating.
remains to be seen how much of old Sarona has really been sacrificed to
meet commercial goals. Yet there are exceptions which give the new
neighborhood another dimension and a greater variety of life; the
Technion will open a new small campus, there will be museums and art
galleries, and a range of organized public activities. Over time,
changes of use will likely occur and if the management is dynamic Sarona
could strike a healthy equilibrium.
before it is opened there is already reason for praise, namely that the
new-old streets of Sarona will be publicly owned and therefore a new
major asset to the city. This stands in contrast to the Old Train
station complex located between Neve Tzedek and Jaffa which has
succeeded as a destination, but as yet failed to integrate itself into
the city’s urban fabric.
The location of Sarona places it between
some of the city’s major future developments (Gindi TLV, the new towers
around Azrieli), and in proximity to Ibn Gvirol, Carlebach and
Dizengoff. The loose grid of streets that has largely stayed faithful to
the original village plan by Theodor Sandel, and the wide open spaces
will likely make Sarona a favored route between its surrounding focal
Sarona is naturally well connected to Kaplan Street.
Though an opportunity is being partially lost on the site’s corner
reaching Menachem Begin, where a bridging staircase is dwarfed by a set
of impervious terraces forming Sarona’s facade to the street. A greater
emphasis on the staircase could have made a better contribution to
Menachem Begin, improving the city’s continuity in an especially
strategic point across the road from Yehudit Boulevard (arguably Tel
Aviv’s most frustratingly isolated boulevard).
towers which will eventually surround Sarona, and their planning will
dictate the ultimate accessibility of the city’s latest historical
attraction. Since the restored village will be surrounded on three of
its four sides, future developments play a greater role in that sense
than Sarona village itself. The role of connectivity should not be
considered for its primary purpose only, it is also the driver of
change. It is an acceptance of adaptability as part of being integrated
into the city’s organic ebb and flow.
is a duality to the lesson of Zora, the languished city. If Zora’s
demise was rooted in its enthusiasm for preservation, we can also assume
that its previous existence had been worth preserving. Though Zora now
exists only in memory, it would not be so had it not developed an
identity to remember. Zora’s imbalance meant that it only truly existed
with varying presence between its birth as a city of continual change
and its static extinction.
Ultimately what will determine the longevity of Sarona is not only its integration into the city’s urban fabric.
will need to carefully balance its identity as a destination and
experience, with its effectiveness as a thoroughfare and ability to
adapt. Only then will it become a living space, adopting the city’s role
as a backdrop for infinite unpredictable occurrences, the type one
experiences so often on the lively streets of Tel Aviv, or any vibrant
Itai Palti is a British/Israeli architect currently living in Tel Aviv, Israel.