Francesco Bandarin, the director of UNESCO's World Heritage Center, told The Jerusalem Post that he had accepted Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai's invitation to oversee the municipality's decision-making process on the future of the city's Mann Auditorium.
Bandarin met with Huldai last Thursday, during a two-day visit to Israel. Their discussion took place in the context of a debate about the auditorium's future, which over the past year has pitted the Tel Aviv Municipality and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra against architects, conservationists, and a number of Knesset members who are strongly opposed to a plan to change the concert hall's design.
At the heart of the debate is the question of whether the building's unique, fan-shaped concert hall should be conserved in the interests of architectural heritage, or whether it should be drastically changed to accommodate the current musical demands of the orchestra, which considers the hall's acoustics to be unsatisfactory.
"The mayor asked us to accompany the process and find a solution that respects both functionality and form," Bandarin told the Post in an interview immediately following his meeting with Huldai. "I told the mayor it was clear to me that these two sets of values - acoustics and architecture - were both important. There is no conclusion yet, but I'm sure it is possible to find such a balance."
Bandarin said the decision would ultimately have to be made by the Israelis themselves.
"It cannot be an outside decision," he said. "We are not judges, we accompany processes."
During his visit to Tel Aviv, Bandarin reviewed the municipality's efforts to conserve the "White City" complex of approximately 4,000 early modernist buildings. It is thanks to this complex that in 2004 Tel Aviv became the second modern city in the world to be added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites, Brasilia being the first.
Bandarin said he was pleased to be visiting the city for the first time since it was declared a heritage site, a decision of which he had been very supportive.
Overall, Bandarin described his visit to Tel Aviv as "very positive," and said he was pleasantly surprised by the impact of the city's status as a World Heritage site on its residents.
"We don't conserve for the sake of conservation, but for the sake of people - for the sake of their sense of pride, of identity and of their future," he said.
"You can regulate and create rules for conservation, but the fact that people are so touched by the recognition is very important," he said.
Bandarin said he was pleased to see that technical and professional means have been put to work in Tel Aviv for the sake of conservation, and noted that the major problem in conservation efforts was maintenance. He also noted the importance of the fact that Israel has a growing body of professionals able to interpret conservation as a dynamic process.
Part of the challenge Tel Aviv faced, he said, was that recognition of its architectural heritage came so late.
"So many buildings are in such a poor state that you have to look at old photos in order to understand their value," he said.
Bandarin defined his approach to conservation as "cautious, but not blind."
"A city is not an archeological site," he said. "Change is part of human history, and UNESCO doesn't want to freeze history." Nevertheless, he said, "I would try to be very cautious about alterations. The White City represents a historical period, and I would be cautious not to give people expectations about, for example, adding additional floors to existing buildings. It is important to consider the integrity of the complex. The urban setting is itself a monument, the product of a particular historical moment."