The Knesset

By
February 7, 2006 15:05
4 minute read.

On the 14th of February, 1949 (Tu Bishvat 5709), the Constituent Assembly, which within two days became the first Knesset, held its first meeting in the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem.

  • February 14, 1949: The first meeting of the Constituent Assembly in Jewish Agency building, Jerusalem.
  • March 8, 1949-December 14, 1949: The Knesset held its sittings in the Kessem Cinema in Tel Aviv.
  • December 26, 1949-March 8, 1950: The Knesset returned to Jerusalem and convened in the Jewish Agency building.
  • March 13, 1950: The Knesset moved to its temporary location ("Froumine Building" on King George Street in Jerusalem) until the completion of the permanent location.
  • 1957: Lord James De Rothschild sent a letter to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion regarding his decision to donate money for the building of the permanent Knesset location.
  • October 14, 1958: The laying of the cornerstone of the new Knesset building.
  • August 31, 1966: The new Knesset building was dedicated during the governing of the sixth Knesset.
  • 1981: It was decided to build a new wing in the Knesset building. The wing was built and then opened in 1992.
  • 2006: An additional wing is currently under construction. THE KNESSET BUILDING Click here for a virtual tour of the Knesset building. For over 16 years the Knesset held its meetings in the Arazi-Frumin building on King George Boulevard in downtown Jerusalem. On July 15, 1956, the Knesset presidium declared, in participation with the Association of Engineers and Architects in Israel, a public competition for the planning of a permanent Knesset building in the government complex being constructed at Givat Ram. Since at this stage the source of financing for the building was not yet known, most of the well known architects in the country did not participate in the competition. Only nine days before the publication of the results of the competition, it was announced that Baron James de Rothschild had left a sum of 1.25 million pounds sterling - six million Israeli pounds at the current rate of exchange - for the construction of the new Knesset building. The names of the winners in the competition were published on July 24, 1957. The jury unanimously awarded first prize to Joseph Klarwein, a Polish-born architect, who had started his professional career in Germany and came to Palestine in 1933. Klarwein's plan was very different from the building that was finally constructed. It was a rectangular structure with 20 columns in the front and back and 15 on the sides, and two courtyards around the plenum hall. The columns did not have a structural function but were mainly decorative, supporting a pergola around the building. The cornerstone for the Knesset building was laid on October 14, 1958. Klarwein's design was vehemently criticized for being neo-classical, un-Israeli, and old-fashioned. After foreign experts were consulted, Tel Aviv architect Shimon Powsner was brought in to help revise the original plan, but finally it was Dov Karmi, and his son Ram who did the work, in cooperation with Klarwein (the elder Karmi died in May 1962 and his son left the project some time earlier, because he objected to the columns). The building, as it was finally constructed, is square and appreciably smaller than in the original plan. The main entrance is from the north (at one stage it was decided that the entrance should be from the south, but the IDF objected for security reasons). There are 10 columns on each side, and these have a structural function. The two courtyards were canceled, and much of the office space was moved from the main structure to terraces on the southern slopes of the hill on which the Knesset is built. Karmi decided that the exterior of the building should be in bare concrete, but that part of the exterior walls should be overlaid with reddish Jerusalem stone in accordance with Jerusalem municipal bylaws. The stone was quarried from the foundations of the building. In December 1963 Dora Gad was hired to do the interior of the building. Gad decided that the interior would be decorated simply, that there would be few decorations and a narrow range of colors. Gad also chose the works of art that would adorn the interior of the building and its compound. The two most famous spaces in the building are the plenum and the Chagall State Hall. In the plenum Gad insisted that a hanging ceiling be constructed under the original high ceiling and vault designed by Klarwein, because of esthetic, acoustic, and lighting problems. It was also Gad who ordered the stone wall at the front of the plenum from the sculptor Danny Karavan. Marc Chagall was involved in the details of the planning of the state hall, for which he designed the mosaics and tapestries. Gad got Chagall to agree to a ceiling covered with 100,000 wooden cubes. After the building was inaugurated on August 30, 1966, criticism of it continued, mainly that the building was not uniform in style. While the original design was compared to Karl Friedrich Schnickel's Altes Museum in Berlin from the late 1820s, what was finally built was compared to the US Embassy in Athens, designed by Walter Gropius in 1961 -- a building strongly criticized at the time for its neo-classical features. However, there were also many who liked the building. One of its admirers said: "The contrasts between the vertical and horizontal architectural elements of the building give it an air of silence and power that is also manifested in the qualities of civil glory' of the exterior, which, despite its monumentality, preserves its human dimensions."


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