Jerusalem, savvy city of old

Art installations in the capital aim to transform ancient landmarks into cutting-edge, urban hotspots.

olive grove art 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy of Jerusalem Municipality)
olive grove art 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy of Jerusalem Municipality)
The Jerusalem Municipality has unveiled plans to install a series of interactive three-dimensional artworks in popular public squares as a means of transforming unexploited public spaces into active and artistic meeting points and landmarks. Named "Placestations", a play on words on the popular game system, "Playstations", and "places," the project invites world-acclaimed, interdisciplinary artists, architects and designers to design urban installations in an effort to brand Jerusalem as a contemporary, design-savvy city. The project was conceived by the city's chief architect, Ofer Manor, who is in charge of the design of the city's public spaces. The responsibilities of his office include redesigning road systems as necessary, widening pavements, upgrading streets or transforming them into pedestrian sidewalks. As public spaces are being temporarily diminished due to municipal works, which are supposed to improve public spaces in the long run, Manor sought an unconventional way to animate and redefine key public areas as centers for social convergence and interaction. "Aside from the day to day initiatives - the planning, design and implementation-I thought it was very important to create a flagship project for the improvement of public space," Manor said in an interview at his office at the Municipality. "'Placestations' is a more immediate solution. It doesn't require many changes in infrastructure-lifting pavements, installing new utilities. In the case of this project, I wanted to bypass the heavy, time-consuming and expensive procedures and create a more immediate, parallel procedure." The project calls for 12 installations throughout the city. Urban installations have been erected in cities such as New York, Miami, Vienna, and London, but this project is likely the largest in scope for any one city. Jaffa Gate at the entrance to the Old City was chosen for its cultural significance as the first locale for an urban installation. The installation intended for this site, entitled "Olive Grove", has been designed by landscape artist Martha Shwartz as an interactive sculpture in the shape of an olive grove, which connotes peace and local roots. Made of steel, the "Olive Grove" was conceived as an outdoor room, providing seating areas beneath a shaded canopy made up of metallic leaves. The work is currently reaching its final design stages. The estimated date of completion is late 2007 and total cost are estimated to reach about $500,000. The "Olive Grove" is partially funded by Baruch Klein of New York and Jerusalem, with assistance from the Jerusalem Foundation. Public monies will finance the initial planning stages of each urban installation, but the Municipality intends for private contributions and non-profit entities to cover the bulk of the costs. This month German lighting designer Ingo Maurer, Dutch architect Adriaan Gauze of the firm WEST8, and German architect Juergen Mayer, all of whom are respected internationally in their fields, will arrive in Israel to survey future spots for Placestations. Israeli artists will also be invited to participate. "The idea was to bring well-known and also up and coming, vanguard artists," said Manor. "The intention is to put Jerusalem on the world map in terms of art and urban design." Other locations being considered for this project include Zion Square in the center of town; the pedestrian malls at Agrippas Street and Hillel Street, currently in construction; Damascus Gate near the Old City; Safra Square, home to the Municipality; Tzahal Square near the Municipality; the Mashbir Plaza in the center of town; and Sahaladin street in East Jerusalem. The project is being implemented by the Eden Company, a subsidiary of the municipality dedicated to the regeneration of the Jerusalem city center. The installations will be erected simultaneously over a period of one to three years to create a city-wide exhibition celebrating public space. Manor intends for Placestations to be officially inaugurated in time for Israel's 60th birthday celebrations. /LI>