Moshe Safdie honored by Hadassah International

"Architecture should be rooted in the past, and yet be part of our own time and forward looking," says the prominent architect.

safdie88 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
No one informed Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he was not the only guest of honor at the Hadassah International dinner in Jerusalem. Olmert, a former health minister and former Jerusalem mayor, has a long history and an exceedingly warm relationship with Hadassah. Although he made no secret of the fact that he was itching to get home to watch the Euroleague Final basketball match between Maccabi Tel Aviv and CSKA, his impatience was sufficiently under control for him to say all the right things about Hadassah. In a reference to the partnership between the government and Hadassah, especially with regard to the expansion plans for the Hadassah-University Medical Center, Olmert quipped that he was still finance minister in the outgoing government, and that he should be careful about promising too much because it might not meet with the approval of the incoming prime minister. Seated at one of the tables nearest the podium was world-acclaimed architect Moshe Safdie, author of the controversial Safdie plan for the development of west Jerusalem. After learning Safdie was there to receive Hadassah International's Man of Distinction Award, Olmert returned to the podium to heap praise on Safdie, claiming him as a native son of Jerusalem. In fact, Safdie, who has both Canadian and US citizenship, and has lived in the US for 25 years, is a Haifa native. There is no doubt, however, that since 1967, when he came to help restore the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, and has accepted numerous other commissions since then, Safdie has had a profound influence on the face of the city. "Moshe Safdie is a great source of pride to the State of Israel. Wherever I go in the world I see the beautiful buildings that he has designed," said Olmert. Of Safdie's work in Jerusalem, he added, "Only a great architect could leave such a mark on a place touched by God." Hadassah International honored Safdie as a man of vision, renowned for his innovative approach to designing cities. Hadassah International president Marlene Post, in listing the range of Safdie's architectural creations in Israel alone, commented that when Safdie returned to Israel in 1967 and saw the dilapidated airport, he had no idea that he would one day design what is now considered the Gateway to Israel - the International Terminal at Ben-Gurion Airport. His architectural handwriting is particularly visible in Jerusalem's Mamilla neighborhood that was once on the edge of no-man's land, dividing east and west Jerusalem. To Safdie, Mamilla is an anti-war symbol, bringing Jews and Arabs together. Of his many creations in Jerusalem, one of the most recent and visually powerful is the Yad Vashem Museum. When he accepted the Yad Vashem assignment, he did not want to build just another museum. "I wanted to create a place of contemplation," he said, describing the process of cutting into the depth of the hill. Visitors absorb evidence of one of the darkest chapters of human history and eventually emerge into the light. The most rewarding part of his job, he said, is that once his buildings are in use, they come alive. Safdie - who has offices in Sommerville, Massachusetts, with branches in Jerusalem and Toronto, Canada - said that he would not be able to do what he does on five continents without the team that makes it possible. "Often we look at a building critically and criticize the architect, and I say: 'Remember, there was a client.'" The same applies in reverse, Safdie noted, adding: "I was lucky to have great clients." In recent years, he said, architecture has become a market-driven culture, with "starchitects." "Architecture has joined the world of fashion, but fashion is passing and architecture is timeless. Architecture should be rooted in the past, and yet be part of our own time and forward looking."