Tower east of Eden

Set to permanently alter Jerusalem’s skyline, Daniel Libeskind’s 39-story Pyramid Tower is controversial, to say the least.

The Pyramid towers over the Jerusalem skyline (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Pyramid towers over the Jerusalem skyline
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The name might lead one to a wrong conclusion; despite the serenity hinted at by the name Eden Tower, the 39-story hi-rise planned to be built on the junction between Agrippas and Eliash Streets is anything but a source of celestial serenity.
In fact, veterans of public struggles against exceedingly high and vast construction do not remember such extensive opposition to a project since the Holyland.
The project has been reduced in height, from its original 165 meters to 108. This was decided on October 29 at the planning and construction local committee meeting, presided over for the last time by exiting deputy mayor Kobi Kahlon prior to his replacement by deputy mayor Meir Turgeman.
The committee approved the construction back in 2009 (a year after Mayor Nir Barkat entered his post), with the tower set to be the city’s highest. The fact that the architect who designed the project was none other than the renowned Daniel Libeskind apparently smoothed over rumblings about the project, and it took some time until questions were raised regarding its nature and character, and the fact that it was planned to rise so high – not to mention that it goes strongly against the city’s master plan, which does not permit any building that high in that part of Jerusalem.
The Pyramid, as the tower is known, will forever alter the city center’s skyline, breaking decrees by the former city administration and city engineer, which ruled that such towers would not be approved for construction in the city center. Former city engineer Uri Shitreet, who approved the Holyland, ruled that towers could be built on Jerusalem’s surrounding borders – like the 13 towers planned at the city’s western entrance, between the central bus station and the Jerusalem International Convention Center. Today, Shitreet is in prison (following his role in the Holyland affair) and the Eden Tower may mark a significant change from his approach.
The architects’ association, the Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel, the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel, residents and city council members are among those who have already expressed their profound opposition to the project, despite last week’s decision to shorten the tower by 57 meters.
Their arguments include the harm to the city’s landscape, the negative impact of the building on surrounding streets, and more. Opponents say that the local committee does not have the authority to decide on a project with such dramatic impact on the city’s landscape and character.
On the other side, supporters of the Eden Tower include prominent figures such as the mayor, city engineer Shlomo Eshkol and his staff.
Former city councilman and local planning committee member Pepe Alalu fears another Holyland affair, adding that it is “at least surprising that this project, which exceeds the city’s master plan [approved 10 years ago and re-approved by Barkat at the end of his previous term], could be approved so easily at the local committee level. That sounds bad and worrisome to me.”
Architects’ association representative Yehonatan Golani declared at last week’s committee meeting that the project’s proponents had presented an erroneous virtual simulation that does not accurately show the final result of the project, which will “have a much greater and dramatic impact on the surroundings.”
Deputy mayors Ofer Berkowitz (Hitorerut) and Tamir Nir (Yerushalmim) have both expressed opposition to the Eden Tower.
Berkowitz says he is satisfied with the local committee’s decision to lower the tower, though he maintains there are outstanding issues requiring attention. “It is wrong to build such a high tower in the city center that doesn’t provide more business assets,” explains Berkowitz.
“There is space for a hotel and private apartments and some trade areas, but no room for offices and businesses, which is what the city center needs so much.”
Nir asserts that even after the significant achievement of lowering the tower by 57 meters, “we still remain with an irregular building that is an anomaly in its height, shape and design in the city center and historical area of Jerusalem, designated for preservation.
This is promoted as a new icon for the city, but I believe that Jerusalem already has plenty of modest architectural icons more fitting to the city’s character.”
Berkowitz adds that a lot of attention must be paid to the building’s elements, “to see that the material used will fit the character of Jerusalem – stones, metal, glass – and I am going to focus on that.”
As for Barkat, he says he supports constructing towers in Jerusalem: “The city needs towers. We are of course preserving the historical part of the Old City, but elsewhere, this will boost the development of Jerusalem and is the right thing to do. The Eden Tower is a good project that will benefit the city center.”
“There is very little chance that the Eden Tower project can be canceled,” confided a high-ranking official at Safra Square. “What is important, at this stage, is to see that aspects of interest for the city – and not the fact that such a famous architect designed it – will be emphasized. That is the responsibility of the residents and their representatives at the council.”