Holistic architecture

Asaf Sadeh favors the hands-on approach.

holistic arch 88 298 (photo credit: Meredith Price)
holistic arch 88 298
(photo credit: Meredith Price)
'Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, a German-born pioneer of modern architecture, was famous for his aphorism 'God is in the details'," says Asaf Sadeh as he gently pushes an iced cappuccino out of his elbow space. "He was right, and this is the philosophy I and my partner, Guy Zur, live by in our own work." Tall and thin with wire-rimmed glasses and a shaved head, Sadeh looks and sounds more like a philosopher than an architect, but according to his beliefs, the two disciplines are inseparable. "There are no limits to architecture," says Sadeh. "It spans every subject - from law to materials to physics to philosophy. It is both a reflection of the culture and a definer of it, and the importance of that in our lives could never be exaggerated." Sadeh, who started his own architectural firm with Zur a little over five years ago, adds that a commitment to 'holistic architecture' defines their work. Holistic, in this case, refers to an involvement in the construction of a new building or house from start to finish - no matter how long the process may take. It entails close, ongoing contact with the clients to create something suitable for their personal space, taking both their needs and emotions into account, drawing the designs, choosing the materials and then overseeing the construction site. "Many architects sit in their office and draw the plans, but then turn the building over to someone else," says Sadeh. "But this disconnects them from the ground, and like a good conductor, an architect needs to be close to the 'orchestra' in order to make beautiful music. We are not afraid to get down in the pit with the musicians, out in the sun, where you can smell the concrete and get your clothes dirty. And this is where the details make a difference." Based in Haifa, Sadeh and Zur have designed a range of private homes and public spaces all over northern Israel, but their most notable project to date was the historical renovation of a Templar home in Bethlehem of the Galilee that was finished in 2004. Built in 1906 by Germans who were trying to make a Templar state in what is now Israel, the house was originally designed and constructed using the latest, turn-of-the-century, technology. But by the year 2000, the three-story, rectangular stone abode was in dire need of a face-lift. "The challenge for us was to completely re-design the interior of the house, giving it modern electricity, phone and computer lines, and putting in new walls that opened the space without disrespecting the original lines," says Sadeh. But beyond the interior, which was completely restored, the two architects also had to find a way to build a 150 square-meter addition that would blend harmoniously with the original exterior walls. In order to preserve the natural flow of the stone while lightening the internal space, Sadeh and Zur decided to build a glass fa ade. Intersected with long, wood panels, which span the internal and external glass rim to form shelves, the wall is both functional and aesthetic. "Because of the way the wood shelves are placed, the sun heats in the winter and cools in the summer, making the house more energy efficient. The wood segments are also shaped in some places to form a desk or decorative shelves inside, and they shed light in a stone house that would otherwise remain very dark and dreary," Sadeh says. One of the hardest elements in construction like this is deciding how to integrate the place where two materials meet, like the glass frame and the stone wall. In one example, an old tree was growing in the ground where steps needed to be built. Rather than tear it down or move it, the wooden panels for the steps were placed around the trunk of the tree, integrating it so that it would not be harmed and could continue to grow in its natural environment. "The house looks and feels different, and you can see a clear distinction between the old and the new, but at the same time, the new glass side follows the lines of the old stone wall," Sadeh says. Also a lecturer at the Technion Institute in Haifa, Sadeh says that architecture students earn a degree that teaches them how to think, but not how to work. "I was taught how to think and I try to teach my students the same thing, but each project is different and comes with its own unique challenges and individuals. For this, there is no master plan, just innate talent, hours and hours of dedicated work, and experience." Ultimately, says Sadeh, each project is like making a child. You create the baby with a partner, either private home owners or a governmental board, you want the child to emerge beautifully and for people to love him/her, and you put a lot of yourself into the final product. "On one hand, the architect is responsible and has to consider the implications and magnitude of designing a building, public space or private home that will stand for many, many years," says Sadeh. "On the other, it's important that we stay fresh and innocent and try to come to each new project with the eyes of a naive child." For more information, contact Asaf Sadeh by phone at +972-544-746-914 or by email at asaf1972@012.net.il