A fascinating exhibition of the work of Eric Mendelsohn (1887-1953) in Berlin and Jerusalem opened October 16. The exhibition consists of many photographs of his iconic buildings as well as biographical material. It is being held at the Goethe Institute in Sokolov Square 15, Jerusalem, and will remain open until December 20, after which it goes to the Goethe Institute in Tel Aviv until April 20, 2014.
The photographs are by Dr. Carsten Krohn, architectural historian of Berlin, where the exhibition originally opened to acclaim. Mendelsohn was one of the most successful architects in Berlin and became famous for his Einstein Tower building (1921) in Potsdam, which was a splendid example of his early expressionist style.
He later progressed to a more functional form of construction and had great commercial success, as well as producing fine buildings in Germany. But all that changed with the rise of Nazism.
Mendelsohn was luckily invited to Palestine by Chaim Weizmann, for whom he built the charming modernistic house in Rehovot in 1936. It is a gem of domestic architecture, planned in a U-shape, with a small outdoor swimming pool within the arms of the U.
In Jerusalem, Mendelsohn, always original, made his home and office in the disused windmill that still stands in Ramban Street.
One of Mendelsohn’s major clients in Germany was Salman Schocken, for whom he had built several major department stores. When Schocken also moved to Palestine, he commissioned Mendelsohn to build his house and library in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood. The Library, on Balfour Street, is another architectural gem, where Mendelsohn designed all the furniture as well as the building. The internal library room is a masterpiece of order and tranquility, as well as functional perfection, with its use of subdued natural lighting and practical bookcases.
In this building the staircase is a main feature, and placed by a large window which makes it safe to use. Unlike many architects who would tuck the staircase into a dark, unused corner, Mendelsohn always made a feature of it in an open, well-lit area, offering convenience and good views of the rest of the building.
Mendelsohn was commissioned to do the Anglo-Palestine (now Bank Leumi) Bank in Jaffa Street and also the vast Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus, where he gave the patients each a small sitting room rather than the normal cramped hospital cell. His nurses’ home is also comfortable and non-institutional, with a balcony to each room. The hospital entry courtyard, with its three white domes, was a polite nod to Arab architecture, but has now been spoiled by insensitive renewal and clutter.
With war looming in 1938, Mendelsohn started work in Great Britain and then in the United States, but there his work became less interesting. It can really be said that some of his best work was executed in Palestine, and it was perhaps the love of his roots and the wonderful natural sunlight of Israel that gave him the necessary inspiration. All of which is on show at the exhibition.The author is a Senior Fellow at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research.
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