From White City to 'art city'

As the first modern Hebrew city, Tel Aviv is known as Israel's cultural hub; 5772 put Tel Aviv's artistic assets on the map.

Habimah Theater 521 (photo credit: Itsik Marom)
Habimah Theater 521
(photo credit: Itsik Marom)
As the first modern Hebrew city, Tel Aviv is known as the cultural hub of Israel, and the Tel Aviv Municipality is always keen to show that the city that never sleeps is a modern urban center with cutting-edge facilities. However, until this past year, Tel Aviv had a national theater that did not meet international standards, as well as a cinematheque and art museum that had not been updated for decades. All that changed in the year 5772.
As part of the municipality’s policy in recent years of renewing the city’s historical assets, many of the cultural institutions in the city have undergone major renovations to bring them up to 21st-century standards.
Impressive makeovers were unveiled of three of the city’s most important and influential cultural landmarks.
After years of planning and investment, the Habimah Theater, Tel Aviv Museum of Art and Tel Aviv Cinematheque have all been transformed with various building extensions and modern face-lifts.
To celebrate the revival of these cultural powerhouses the municipality declared 2012 “Art Year” in a bid to showcase the improvements and let the world see the modern facilities Tel Aviv has to offer.
A look back at these projects, completed in the past 12 months, highlights that the White City does indeed have world-class cultural institutions.
Habimah, the home of Israel’s national theater, received a much needed face-lift and was officially reopened in November 2011 after being closed for renovations for almost five years.
The ambitious renovation project cost a total of NIS 105 million, with the municipality contributing just over NIS 57m. and the government funding the rest.
For many actors and theatergoers, the renovations came none too soon.
With the cornerstone of the original building having been laid in 1935, and the theater officially opening in 1946, by the turn of the 21st century Tel Aviv’s first major modern theater was behind the times. The crowded halls and the outdated workshops and rehearsal halls did not meet international standards.
The new building was designed by Israel Prize laureate Ram Karmi. In an effort to maintain many of the characteristics of the original building, Karmi made a point of re-exposing the original six hallmark columns, according to the municipality. The modern design by the veteran architect includes new rehearsal rooms and four modern performance halls that provide increased legroom.
While the main structure of the theater is very impressive, the redesign also includes improved electrical, sewerage and water systems, cutting-edge lighting and sound equipment, a modern cafeteria, a five-level underground parking lot and a number of escalators and elevators.
The theater’s four halls each have their own distinct character. The Rovina Hall, which has 920 seats, is the main hall where major performances are staged. Next in size is the Meskin Hall with 301 seats. With influences from the Greek arena, the Bartonov Hall was designed complete with concrete tribunes and has 196 seats. Finally, the smallest and most intimate hall, the Experimental Theater, is designed like a bar and can seat 150.
Hanoch Levin’s Morris Schimmel was the first play performed at the new theater in November, and an official gala opening took place in January.
The renovated theater building is part of a larger project at Hatarbut Square that was unveiled last year after a multimillion-shekel face-lift.
The impressive square includes a large sculpture consisting of three connected circles, a large rectangular seating area made up of wooden steps surrounding a patchwork of flowers and plants of various shapes, sizes and colors and a sleek, modern infinity pool.
Since it first opened in 1973, the Tel Aviv Cinematheque sought to be a pioneer of both mainstream and alternative cinema. From the outset, it intended to heighten public awareness of the art of filmmaking and stress the importance of film education.
While the films being shown may have been original and cutting edge, by the start of this century the building was starting to show its age and the municipality decided to help with renovations in the form of a new wing.
The new wing was designed by architect Salo Hershman and includes three spacious new theaters, all fitted with some of the latest projection and sound equipment. The “futuristic” building also includes office space, a comprehensive film library, a coffee shop and a restaurant.
The modern design of the new wing has once again put the Cinematheque on the map of Tel Aviv’s cultural hot spots. Featuring huge red metal pipes as well as enormous mirrors and fragmented geometric shapes, the iconic building stands out in its location in the heart of the city.
The dedication ceremony for the new wing, known as the Marc Rich Israel Cinema Center, took place in January. Over 600 guests attended the event, including President Shimon Peres, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.
The new wing, which cost about NIS 50m., has taken over from the original Cinematheque building which is currently closed for renovations.
About half the funding came from the Marc Rich Foundation, with the other half provided by the Tel Aviv Municipality.
The new center hopes to make film, cinematic art and culture accessible to Israeli audiences of all ages, according to the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Foundation, the organization that spearheaded the project. “Residents and visitors will be able to enjoy annual film festivals, cinematic competitions, independent productions, and global feature films screened for the public,” a statement by the foundation said.
Almost 10 years in the planning, the new state-of-the-art wing at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art has been internationally recognized as a success.
In 2002 the museum set out to find an architect to help construct a building that would house new as well as existing collections. Prof. Preston Scott Cohen, who heads the Harvard University Graduate School of Architecture, was chosen to take on the challenge of bringing the acclaimed museum into the 21st century.
Cohen’s horizontal “radiator” model has come a long way since its first presentation to the judges of the competition, according to the museum.
The construction was made possible due to a generous donation from Herta and Paul Amir of Los Angeles, and thus the building is named after them. The total cost of the building was $55m.
The unique space is simultaneously linear and multi-layered, with a vertical “light fall” that drains the building’s vertical dimension. This light orientates the visitor and brings together all the empty spaces around it.
So impressive is the design of the building that it was awarded the Best Museum Award in the prestigious Travel and Leisure magazine in 2012.
The influential magazine commented that: “In contrast to many dramatically shaped new art museums, it succeeds in being at once breathtaking and deferential to the art on display.”
Architect and Travel and Leisure judge Billie Tsien said: “The Tel Aviv museum is quite a piece of sculpture, but it is a sculpture that accepts art.”
Twisting from floor to floor, the five levels of the futuristic building accommodate large, rectangular galleries.
The clever design allows natural light to refract into the deepest recesses of the half-buried building.
With over 1,720 square meters of gallery space the new wing houses a number of different exhibitions at any one time. The inaugural installation included some 250 works dating from 1906 to the present.
The new wing is an addition to the original building that was opened in 1971 located in the heart of Tel Aviv adjacent to the Golda Meir Cultural and Art Center and the Beit Ariela Municipal Library. That original building was expanded in 1996 with an expansive Sculpture Garden and then again in 1999 with the Gabrielle Rich Wing.
Tel Aviv’s Art Year has already seen a number of successful events including a celebratory opening event in March featuring a multidisciplinary, one-of-a-kind encounter between musical performances, digital art, screenings of video art and animation, displays and interactive installations, showcased at 15 hubs of activity at the city’s art complex.
At the beginning of this month the annual Loving Art Making Art saw 60 galleries, museums and exhibition spaces open their doors to the public free of charge.
In the New Year, the “Boidem” (Attic) Festival will be a platform for artists to reveal their earliest works in filmmaking, photography, playwriting, plastic arts, video art and dance.
That will be followed by the Bat Yam Biennale of Landscape Urbanism, which is an international biannual event, dealing with planning and design of urban life culture.
In terms of cultural construction, next year residents of Tel Aviv can look forward the unveiling of the first stage of the Ganei Sarona commercial and residential complex. The multi-purpose site will include 33 original houses from the former Templer colony, a 4.5-hectare park, a convention center and 10 skyscrapers facing Kaplan Street and the Kirya military headquarters. The entire project, with its adjoining planned light rapid transit station, is set to be fully completed within the next decade.