Notwithstanding the global financial meltdown and the subsequent difficulty of finding key donors, the Bezalel School of Arts and Design recently announced plans to move ahead with its proposed $80 million campus in downtown Jerusalem. Construction is set to begin in the summer of 2011 and be completed four years later, according to the school’s president, Arnon Zuckerman.

“We believe that the academy needs to be in an urban center and not isolated on a mountaintop as it is now,” he said.

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Twenty years ago the art and architecture academy made a historic planning blunder, abandoning downtown Jerusalem and moving to a new campus designed by local architect David Reznick on suburban Mount Scopus, adjoining the Hebrew University. In hindsight, that relocation proved to be very unfortunate for both the city and the school. Targeted by terrorists and bled by new shopping malls and poor planning decisions, the city center went into a prolonged decline.


Bezalel belatedly realized that an art school needs the creative frisson that comes with being downtown, and commissioned an international architecture competition to design the school’s new campus in the historic Russian Compound next to City Hall.

In 2007 STUDYO Architects of Cologne and Istanbul were chosen as the winners of that competition. Their plans call for 40,000 square meters of functional space in a building wrapping around the landmark Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral, and wedged between City Hall, the Magistrate’s Court and the Museum of Underground Prisoners.

The Turkish-German firm, headed by Aysin Ipekci and Sam Yurtsevr, beat out 188 entries from 33 countries, one-third of which were by Israeli architects. The proposal envisions an interconnected five-story building and two-story annex. The design is meant to encourage 24-hour interaction between students and the general public.

The Ipekci-Yurtsevr design “optimizes the qualities of the site and successfully integrates indoor and outdoor spaces,” noted a Bezalel press release.

“The design responded sensitively to the historical context and as such connects to the surrounding area, interpreting effectively the traditional Jerusalem elements of courts, gardens, roofscape and screen facades. The design most successfully places facilities accessible to Bezalel and the public, and most effectively interprets the mission and vision of Bezalel.”

Today, with the advent of new technologies for communication and artistic expression, the borders that separated different disciplines of artistic expression and design have little meaning. Bezalel has pioneered and promoted a multi-disciplined approach to all forms of artistic expression.


The same pluralistic approach and openness applies to cultural diversity exhibited by the different communities of Jerusalem. Bezalel is hoping to break down the borders separating these populations. The location of the new campus at the physical crossroads of east and west Jerusalem, where Arab residents encounter Jewish residents and haredi Jews meet other cultures creates opportunity for multicultural interaction.

The move back to the city center is part of plans to expand Bezalel, increase its student body and add new departments. The school currently has 3,000 students and 500 faculty members, including those already studying downtown in the faculty of architecture, which was renovated in 2006. The new campus will allow enrollment to expand to 4,500 students.
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