Immeasurable rewards

Aranoff designed and built his family’s house in Lapid, opposite the Ben Shemen Forest, with careful attention to using sun and wind for natural warming and cooling.

Votes for women, Part II (photo credit: AI ARCHITECTURE & URBAN DESIGN)
Votes for women, Part II
Alan Aranoff daydreamed and doodled away his grade-school years at Emek Hebrew Academy, the Orthodox day school his parents helped found in the San Fernando Valley of California.
“I didn’t understand the point of going to school. I loved climbing, exploring and creating tunnels and treehouses,” says Aranoff, who later helped design some of the most spectacular spaces in Israel, including Jerusalem’s Supreme Court and Teddy Park. “I didn’t really study until eighth grade when they started scaring us about college admissions.”
It was at UCLA that he discovered architecture as a way to utilize his innate talents. Once he was exposed to the work of iconic architects such as Gaudi, Wright and Le Corbusier, he recalls, “There was no turning back.”
A passion for Israel was brewing in Aranoff at the same time. He spent his junior year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Haifa, in addition to volunteering on a kibbutz. After college, he enrolled in a yeshiva in the fledgling Samarian town of Beit El.
“In those early days, they needed help with construction, so they gave me a crew and we built sidewalks and steps in the morning, and I learned [Torah] all afternoon and night,” Aranoff recalls. Later, in graduate school at UCLA, he returned to Israel with a grant to conduct solar research at Sde Boker.
Though Aranoff was determined to make aliyah, he first took a job at the architectural firm of Kohn Pedersen Fox in New York to get some experience under his belt. “I thought I’d be there for one year but it turned into three because it was a boom time for building skyscrapers.”
His career was rising as fast as those buildings, but he feared that if he didn’t get to Israel soon he would get “stuck” in the Diaspora.
“It was hard to walk away from all that. When I told my bosses I was moving to Israel, of all places, they thought it had to be a ploy for a salary raise.”
They dangled juicy incentives to tempt Aranoff to stay. He remained steadfast in his feeling that the work he was doing, while exciting, lacked spiritual content.
“To focus on design, I have to be truly moved. If a building is beautiful but has questionable meaning, it’s more about ego, about making something taller or eye-catching, and that didn’t speak to me. For me it’s a religious thing to direct your talents with all your heart and all your soul to what really moves you.”
So in 1987 he crated up his bike, skis and hundreds of books, sent them on a boat to Haifa and followed along. He camped out briefly in Jerusalem with his younger sister, Leah, who’d moved to Israel ahead of him. (Another of his four siblings, Gail, also later made aliyah.)
Aranoff moved to Tel Aviv, accepting a position with Ada Karmi-Melamede Architects. Karmi-Melamede and her brother, Ram, were beginning the Supreme Court project that would establish them as architectural celebrities.
After three years, most of them spent immersed in the Supreme Court design, Aranoff felt ready to see what he might accomplish independently. 
In 1990, he formally completed the aliyah process, opened his own practice and married Chicago émigré Devorah Goldberg. They rented an apartment in a Tel Aviv Bauhaus building and welcomed their first son, Chanan, in 1991.
A week before daughter Yakira’s birth in 1993, the family moved into a residence in Tel Aviv that Aranoff had gutted and rebuilt. Daughter Talya and son Yosef came along next.
Aranoff was soon doing apartment renovations, designing houses and synagogues, and landing some big projects through his connections with Karmi, such as the conceptual design of the current Beersheba courthouse. 
In the late 1990s, the Aranoffs won a tender for a lot in Lapid, near Modi’in. He’d long been interested in this centrally located area. As a student he had spent Shabbatot in nearby Mevo Modi’im (aka the Carlebach Moshav).
Aranoff designed and built his family’s house in Lapid, opposite the Ben Shemen Forest, with careful attention to using sun and wind for natural warming and cooling. He built his architectural studio adjacent to the house so that he could be present for his wife and children despite working what he calls “crazy hours.” The couple’s fifth child, daughter Revaya, was born after their move.
“My wife and I planned the house around our family and our needs,” he says. “Devorah makes everything possible. She is much more grounded than I am and I don’t do anything without her.”
To be competitive as a one-person practice, he helped develop 3D modeling software to generate drawings more quickly and accurately than could a cadre of employees. This afforded him the capability to tackle large projects, such as the Rabin Center in Ramat Aviv on which he worked with renowned architect Moshe Safdie.
Eventually he took on a partner, Isaac Halfon. For nearly six years they worked out of a vaulted Ottoman space near the Jaffa beach. In 2018, AI Architecture & Urban Design moved into its new office on a former farm in Mevo Modi’im.
State-of-the-art 3D imaging enables them not only to manage projects of any size but also to invite community participation.
“Our tools enabled, for instance, the entire community at Kibbutz Sha’alvim to be a part of the renovation process of their landmark synagogue that is currently being completed. Community members were able to continually ‘move’ through and directly affect the design as it developed,” explains Aranoff.
AI Architects did the master plan for the reclamation of Eilat Airport, which being transformed following the Ramon Airport opening. They’re designing housing projects in Kiryat Ata and in Gadera, an early-education center in Kiryat Bialik, and a residential-recreational complex for lone soldiers in Modi’in. They did the master plan for Keren Hakirya, a massive office, residential and retail project to be built near Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Aranoff’s professional success has not dulled his appreciation of the spiritual dimension of living in Israel.
“Whatever your walk of life, if you are moved spiritually, then your physical surroundings will be filled with light,” says Aranoff, who recently became a grandfather.
“Israel does present challenges, and battling corruption and external attack is like draining the malarial swamps of yesteryear – but the rewards are immeasurable. It’s remarkable how far we’ve come but there is more to do and we need inspired people to come here and transform things.”