Greening the White City

By
August 6, 2010 16:26

Unlikely as it may seem, the polluted industrial zone of Rehov Hamasger is home to the avant-garde of Tel Aviv’s green revolution




AN ARTIST’S impression of the Azouri EcoTower superimposed on a photo of the Rehov Hamasger industri

EcoTower311. (photo credit: Courtesy/Andres Lacko)

In Tel Aviv’s Rehov Hamasger, there are no green spaces. Here the motor vehicle rules supreme, a perpetual traffic jam chokes the street and the air is yellow with pollution. On one side of the road, new luxury cars are displayed in glittering, glass-fronted showrooms. Opposite are the car graveyards, towering piles of scrap metal. The side streets are a maze of car repair shops and sleazy nightclubs.

When I go in search of a cafe, I find only a gas station: in its forecourt, uniformed workers are busy feeding hungry cars with gasoline and oil.

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Rehov Hamasger is hardly a place one would associate with concepts such as “green,” “ecology” or “the environment.”

Unlikely as it may seem, however, Rehov Hamasger is home to the avant-garde of Tel Aviv’s green revolution.

Right here in this polluted industrial zone, Azouri EcoTower – the city’s first green office tower – is under construction. Developed by the Azouri Brothers and designed by architect Keren Yevdub, stage one of the EcoTower will open in January 2011.

Brothers Ronen and Alon Azouri are proud of their project and hope it will spark a green revolution among Tel Aviv’s businesspeople.

“EcoTower is immensely important for the greening of Tel Aviv,” Ronen Azouri emphasizes, while acknowledging that it was a challenge to construct a green building in the White City.

“It was difficult to convince all of our technological partners that this was a good idea,” he says. “But each of us brothers has a personal love for nature, and that spurred us on.” Green or sustainable buildings – environmentally responsible, resource-efficient structures – are already common in cities around the world, but EcoTower is the first one of its kind in Tel Aviv.

Absolutely everything about this 20-story tower has been meticulously planned: construction materials, energy and water consumption, and even the health and well-being of the people who will work there.

Office buildings use (and waste) an enormous amount of energy, particularly because of artificial lighting and climate control. EcoTower incorporates several cutting-edge green technologies to reduce energy consumption. Photo-voltaic cells on the roof will generate electricity (“with love from the sun,” smiles Azouri); a green air-conditioning system will save energy, “smart” windows will let in daylight but keep out heat, and a water recycling system will save millions of liters of water a year – very important as Israel faces a serious water crisis.

Providing consultancy to the Ecotower project is British mechanical engineer Guy Battle, founder of the carbon and sustainability consultancy dcarbon8 Deloitte. Driven by growing consumer pressure to green up their acts, companies are making sustainable buildings a mainstream concept, says Battle.

“Consumers are more active and aware of green issues,” Battle explains. “So brands are paying a premium to be green. These are the sorts of people Ronen Azouri wants to bring to EcoTower.”

Green buildings are a response to a serious global problem, says Battle: According to the Living Planet report, Western lifestyles are literally costing the Earth as we consume the planet’s natural resources at a dangerously unsustainable rate. The “ecological footprint” – the number of hectares of land each person requires to grow food, develop materials and dispose of waste – of Western nations is many times higher than that of developing countries.

Where is Israel on this scale? Our ecological footprint is 5.5 hectares per person, half as much as the US.

“That’s still not good,” says Battle. The earth can only support around 2 hectares per person.

While green buildings are an important step in reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions, they bring great benefits on a very local scale, too. Both Battle and Azouri agree that an important aspect of green buildings is the improved quality of life for those who work in them.

“It’s not just about the environment,” Battle emphasizes.

“There are social and economic factors at work here. It’s about managing world expectations on the scale of individual cities and people.”

Many of us spend almost as much time in the office as we do at home. Although we try to make our homes as comfortable as possible, we often don’t or can’t do the same with our offices. Harsh artificial lighting, lack of control over room temperature, poor air quality, cramped spaces – all of these can affect productivity and even our health.

Sustainable buildings address these issues. “Green buildings are healthier buildings,” says Battle.

A central feature of green buildings, including EcoTower, is the physical comfort of the people who will work in them.

“To ensure comfort, you need to take into account light, heat, sound and air quality,” says Battle. It is ironic that many of the technologies we consider improvements over nature – electric lighting instead of sunlight, air-conditioning instead of a natural breeze – actually make us feel unwell and reduce our productivity.

Remove the artificial lights and introduce a window, and employees are more productive. They feel better, too.

Another way to make people happy is by allowing them to open the windows of their offices to control the ventilation. This simple act also saves energy (and money).

“Does Israel really need air-conditioning 12 months a year?” asks Battle. “Can’t you just open the window?” Controversial questions, indeed.

Azouri adds that EcoTower will have two botanical gardens, on the fifth floor and the roof, intended as “relax and breakout” spaces. Secure bicycle storage areas will provide an incentive for employees to cycle to work or to local meetings – Azouri stresses that Rehov Hamasger’s central location is ideal for this.

“I already walk to most of my meetings in the area,” he smiles. “Well, except maybe in July and August.”

With all these benefits, is it surprising that companies in cities like London, Madrid and Melbourne are demanding sustainable buildings? The trend has – just – reached Israel: This year, Intel’s new green building in Haifa was awarded a Gold rating by the American LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) scheme.

Despite its desire to be a modern city, Tel Aviv is lagging behind. Azouri and Battle say that EcoTower is an important first step for the White City.

“EcoTower has been a massive challenge,” says Battle.

“And it is also a major success.” Can EcoTower start a green building trend in Tel Aviv? Azouri believes green issues are becoming an important economic force here.

“EcoTower will be a gathering point for a new community of green-minded businesspeople,” he says.

Companies already signed up to move into EcoTower include John Bryce and Mercedes Benz.

Green homes are coming to Tel Aviv, too. Among the many new residential blocks planned for south Tel Aviv is an ecological apartment building on Rehov Akiva Eger. Like EcoTower, this new green residential tower will include smart lighting and water recycling.

“The switch to green building happens in stages,” says Battle. “It takes courage to take the first step.”

EcoTower has taken that crucial first step toward making the White City green.


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