Unesco's WHC director visits Tel Aviv

TA Mayor Ron Huldai requested Unesco's help in deciding the future of the Mann Auditorium.

mann auditorium 88 (photo credit: )
mann auditorium 88
(photo credit: )
Francesco Bandarin, the director of Unesco's World Heritage Centre, told The Jerusalem Post that he had accepted Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai's request that the Centre accompany the municipality's decision-making process concerning the future of the city's Mann auditorium. Bandarin met with Huldai last Thursday, during a two-day visit to Israel. Their discussion of the Mann auditorium took place in the context of a debate on the theater's future, which, over the past year, has pitted the Tel Aviv Municipality and the Philharmonic Orchestra against architects, conservationists, and a number of Knesset members who are strongly opposed to the plan. 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 culture, or whether it should be drastically changed in order to accommodate the current musical demands of the orchestra, which considers its acoustics to be unsatisfactory. "The mayor asked us to accompany the process and find a solution that respects both functionality and form," Bernardin 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." Bernardin said that while Unesco's World Heritage Centre would accompany the discussion, the decisions 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, prior to which he also visited the Palestinian Authority, Bandarin reviewed the Tel Aviv Municipality's efforts to conserve the "White City" complex of approximately 4000 early modernist buildings. This complex was the main reason that Tel Aviv became in 2004 the second modern city in the world to be added to Unesco's list of World Heritage sites. Bandarin said he was pleased to be visiting the city for the first time since it was declared a Heritage Centre, a decision of which he had been very supportive. Overall, Bandarin defined his visit to Tel Aviv as "very positive," and said he was pleasantly surprised by the impact of the city's status as World Heritage Centre 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 regulates 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 tools have been put to work in T el 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 currently 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," he said. "It is important to consider the integrity of the complex. The urban setting is itself a monument, the product of a particular historical moment."