Eiffel Tower of Jerusalem?

Will the controversial bridge one day be loved by those who hate it?

bridge 88 (photo credit: )
bridge 88
(photo credit: )
Be it a magnificent masterpiece, or a monstrous chunk of steel, one thing is certain about the bridge being built at the entrance to Jerusalem: It's odd. Budgetary oddities and logistical peculiarities in its building have perplexed and vexed Jerusalemites, but the actual sight of the soaring, 120-meter-high, crooked white mast and the dozens of cables curved like a billowing sail that hold up the bridge itself, leaves many of them dumbfounded. Is such a striking structure, sticking out against the lackluster urban backdrop, suitable as a gateway to the capital? Is a modernistic feature of this sort the right welcome to this ancient city? Or in simpler terms: Does it look good, or doesn't it? Well, it depends who you ask. Broadly speaking, it appears that it is very much appreciated by leading architects - yet the man-on-the-street sees it as strange at best, or perversely ugly at worst. Designed by world-renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to carry the capital's planned light railway over the bustling junction of streets where the highway from the west enters the city, the bridge, which will be inaugurated on Israel's 60th Independence Day next month and is taking final shape these days, has raised the hackles of many. This is mostly because of a budget that has inflated threefold to around a quarter of a billion shekels, delays of several years in building it, and the agony the blundered construction of the railway itself has caused to residents, drivers and the city coffers. That is a tangle of controversies which angers almost everybody, but the aesthetic question seems less clear-cut. Yaakov Ya'ar, one of Israel's most important architects and winner of the Israel Prize for Architecture in 2007, seemed slightly irritated that so many people see the bridge as a beast, and not a beauty. "Only Jerusalemites are critical of the bridge. The bridge is beautiful. You can say it's not cheap, that it's expensive - but it's beautiful. It's extraordinary, a work of genius. It's certainly a Jerusalem landmark," Ya'ar told The Jerusalem Post. Ya'ar, who among many endeavors and projects took part in the preservation of the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem's Old City and in the old city of Jaffa, conceded that there was something odd about the bridge. But he asserted that "the bridge is foreign - that's true. That's what Parisians said of the Eiffel Tower at first. They hated it, they said it did not belong - but not anymore. Now they're used to it. Aesthetically the bridge is better than the Eiffel Tower. As a bridge, it's a statue, a work of wonder. Calatrava is a wizard." David Kroyanker, a leading authority on Jerusalem's architecture, also thinks it is just a matter of time until people's discontent fades away. "Fifty years from now, all the arguments on the aesthetics of it, at least, will sink to oblivion, as happened to many buildings," he told the Post. Ram Carmi, one of the country's top architects and recipient of the Israel Prize in 2002, also emphatically said that "the bridge is beautiful," without going into detail. Other architects are known to share this positive view. But when taxi driver Natan, in his late 50s, drove past the bridge, he took his hands off the wheel for a moment, lifted his arms in confused resignation, and sighed. "It's ugly, way too ugly. It's like a monster... like a rocket. It's over the top, out of place, not right for this modest city. Maybe these experts see something ordinary folk don't." Elisheva, a veteran Jerusalem education professional who drives by the bridge on her way in and out of the city several times a week, said she feels exasperated every time she passes by it. "It's a megalomaniac project, like a gigantic phallic symbol, totally unsuitable for Jerusalem's atmosphere. It's a monster, it's hideous, it's really artificial in this city." Shmuel, a 20-year-old yeshiva student who lives nearby, said, too, that it is "ugly, out of place," and that he thinks structures like it might only belong "in broadly open places." Indeed, Jerusalem residents' key complaint is that the bridge is out of place, both at the entrance to the city, and in the capital as a whole. But Kroyanker, who received the 2006 Jerusalem Prize for his extensive activities, research and writings on building preservation in Jerusalem, sees nothing wrong with what he calls "good contrast" in a conservative city. "It will be a contrast to a heavy, historical city. Sometimes, good contrast - and this is good contrast - can be interesting. If it can bestow 'enlightenment' on this city that is dark in more ways than one, that indeed will be good," he said. Kroyanker agrees that the surroundings to the bridge pose something of a "problem," because the entrance to the city is not up to much at this stage. "It's like casting pearls before the swine," he said, but added that "one can only hope that it will uplift, upgrade the entrance to the city." Yet ordinary Jerusalemites' tone seems to reflect a sense that it's not only the design of the bridge that is unseemly. What is really ugly, they feel, is the vast amount of money spent on a structure they deem unnecessary, and that architecture and aesthetics should have taken a backseat to deeper concerns. Yael, an artist who lives in the city, said that "the bridge is quite overblown, aggressive, too tall - but what really is ugly is the money poured into this project, money that could have been used to help the city's poor instead." And for those living directly under the looming giant, frustration is inevitably mixed with confusion. Yaakov, who lives in an apartment building right next to the bridge, said he's quite flabbergasted by it. "It's just a bizarre, inexplicable structure," he muttered jocularly. So who's right? Aharon, an old mailman who looks like he's seen it all, put down his shabby bag, put his hands behind his head, and stared straight up. "You know," he said, "I really don't know. It's one of those things... It's just too strange to tell if it's ugly or beautiful."