A comment on space, size and purpose

Bezalel's yearly graduate exhibition is taking place in the vast old terminal at Ben-Gurion airport - presumably with one foot on the ground and one in the air.

In contrast to all the PR and critical attention that Bezalel Academy's yearly graduate exhibition at Ben-Gurion Airport has received in the local media, the Architecture Department has been notably neglected. Unless they are professionals or family members, visitors are also unlikely to even notice the collection of mostly monochromatic, nearly flat cardboard and plastic models. The models are mostly of large-scale urban projects, covering an area hundreds or thousands of meters in length and breadth; several others depict skyscraper-like towers, bearing no recognizable context in the horizontal dimension. The Architecture Department's section of the exhibition is located in the former main departure hall, right against the glazed front, so there are no vertical surfaces (walls) that can be used for the display of plans and sketches. So those that are displayed have been laid down flat at table height and the visitor has to flip through them - which he or she is not very likely to do. But enough quibbling about the display. Anyone familiar with architectural education is aware of the astronomical amount of time model-making takes. And this is especially true for exhibition-quality models, used to present a project to a minister or "sell" it to a donor. In truth, these large models, in contrast with detailed models of a room or a small building, actually do not provide the observer with much of an experience of the building. They do, however, tend to imbue every idea with a kind of jewel-like perfection. It is "the magic of the scale model" - a phenomenon currently explored in the Israel Museum's Mini-Israel exhibition. Viewed in the context of architectural education, it is obvious that you can make scores of drawings in the time it takes to make one exhibition- grade model. And most people, including most architecture students and even those using 3D visualization software, do not intuitively possess the capacity to create convincing, lively, richly textured drawings of a non-existent object. But these are exactly the kind of drawings that can convey the intended experience and character of a future project - be it a window seat, a room or a plaza in the city. And it all goes beyond being able to communicate your design - you need to draw in order to develop your own thoughts - and for most, that is a skill that needs to be honed with some effort. And so, after my visit to the Bezalel Academy's Department of Architecture's exhibition, I calculated some approximate (apologies offered in advance) statistics. Of the 44 projects, only 9.5, or 21.6 percent, are located in Jerusalem. In contrast 13.5 (30.1 percent) are in the Tel Aviv/central region. Twelve are in unspecified, unknown or indiscernible locations, six in the South, two in Ben-Gurion Airport and one in the North. So apparently, the typical Bezalel graduate does not hold Jerusalem as the locus of his or her chief professional interest. This, of course, is in sharp contrast to architects of renown across the world, who would kill for an opportunity to do a project in Jerusalem. The few Jerusalem projects that were presented didn't offer even a visual hint of Jerusalem's dominant building material. There were no natural stone, no arches, no tiled roofs, shading devices or domes. Do the students consider these elements taboo? As a matter of fact, nearly all the projects in the exhibition completely ignored issues of materials, texture, color, rhythm, light, detail or human-scale elements (windows and doors, for example) - in short, almost everything by which people actually experience architecture. Also notably absent are issues of architectural heritage, expressed in problems of preservation, conservation and adaptive reuse. These issues take up a major portion of architects' time in cities all over the world, especially in Europe. But only one of the proposed Jerusalem projects deals with these issues - and that one proposes a moratorium on building in Jerusalem. The interiors of the buildings are glaringly absent. That's right - the budding architects did not provide us with any interior views - not of a theater, not of a library, not even of a living room. And that applies to the city, too: there are no views of squares, plazas or any space with edges. Of course, we must recognize that students and instructors do face an inherent dilemma. Conventional architectural education progresses from the small scale (such as the student's own room) to the intermediate (such as small dwelling or daycare center) to the urban scale. At the end of five years, they are eager to display the acme of their achievement - the complex urban project. Nevertheless, in addition to the urban-scale plans, for a graduate exhibition to be complete, one needs to see an experiential exploration of samples of small places that are made within that large plan. One must ask - what is the experience of a room, a balcony, a storefront within the vast whole? This is correct both conceptually and didactically. One must always move back and forth between the large and the small human scale. After all, whom are we architects really working for? So what do we have here? Is this what we would call functionalism? Not really, since most of these large-scale projects are not tailored to a particular function but are avowedly "multi-functional." One senses the generative force of a yearning for a new urban space, a space with no edges or boundaries - the kind you just whiz by. As for the buildings, the exhibition reveals a predominant but crude preoccupation with form per se or with the sculptural qualities of the object. Then, in contrast with that, a proficiency in research methods and statistical analysis. We can imagine these young architects busily advising politicians and political appointees on the construction of new cities. But where would these cities be? How interesting that the combination of formalism in design and service to government-directed goals that was so characteristic of Israel's architecture in the early days of the state is making its reappearance at the Bezalel exhibition. All that having been said, I would like to direct the viewer toward Efrat Gideon's project, "Housing for Alzheimer Patients within the Community" and Vered Blau's "Urban Mall in Bat-Yam" - my two favorites in the present collection. The writer is an architect.