Beauty and the beast

The Supreme Court vs. Cinema City.

Cinema City Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Cinema City Jerusalem
There are marriages that from their very beginnings are sure to fail. When a stately and highly disciplined, discreet and well-mannered person is matched with a crass and vulgar, frivolous and noisy partner, it is certain that the marriage is never going to work. Imagine two people, having absolutely nothing in common, forced to live side by side permanently. Only total blindness to the innate character of each partner could allow such a marriage to take place.
The capital’s new Cinema City complex, thoughtlessly situated opposite the Supreme Court, widely acknowledged to be Israel’s finest public building, leads one to think of just such a disaster.
Relations between buildings are similar in many respects to personal relations, except, of course, that where buildings are concerned all marriages are Catholic; the pope himself is unable to dissolve the contract once the deed is done.
Cinema City’s neighbor to the south, the Supreme Court, inaugurated in 1992, was designed by Ada Karmi-Melamede and Ram Karmi, winners of a major architectural competition held in 1986. The competition’s guidelines stipulated that the design of the new structure must be in harmony with the Knesset building to the south. A pity no one thought then of demanding a similar harmonious relationship with any future building constructed to the north. And one might justifiably ask: What is the point of holding an architectural competition at all and have the winning entry built at enormous expense, only to later permit the final structure to be violated by destroying its immediate environmental context?
Today, it is absurd to see all the media attention focused on the issue of whether the Cinema City complex will be permitted to operate on Shabbat or not. Ironically, this issue will be finally decided upon in the court chambers of its closest neighbor, which it has damaged beyond repair. Measured against the painful facts already established on the ground, the Sabbath issue, as important as it is, especially in Jerusalem with its very large ultra-Orthodox population, seems secondary.
Backing the Cinema City complex from the start, albeit with the best intentions – providing the city with a major entertainment and cultural complex – was Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. He is merely the latest in a long line of Jerusalem mayors to support major planning and building projects with long-term destructive effects on the city. Barkat will be long remembered for this grossly insensitive act. In this regard, Ehud Olmert and Uri Lupolianski need hardly be mentioned. And let’s not forget would-be mayor Menachem Porush, who was responsible for the approval of that stone and concrete labyrinth of a neighborhood known as Har Homa.
Of all our political figures, mayors are in the position to do the most good or the most harm in matters of design. The problem is that the education and experience of Barkat and hundreds of mayors just like him, wherever obtained, are most unlikely to have prepared them to make crucial design decisions.
Their duty, therefore, should be to surround themselves with outstanding professionals, of a caliber that has been completely lacking in Jerusalem for too many years, while exhibiting a great willingness to listen and learn.
Positively frightening was seeing Mayor Barkat at the “Jerusalem 2020” conference, pen in hand, designing the city all by himself.
For there to be any real hope of preventing further disasters of the Cinema City variety, it is precisely this sort of egotistical behavior, so prevalent in our planning and building culture, that must be totally and finally eradicated.
The author is an architect and town planner in Jerusalem.