In Design: Reaching for the sky

Tel Aviv is building on Richard Meier's iconic design aesthetic to send its architectural stock soaring.

Rothschild Tower TA 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rothschild Tower TA 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"The building art is the spatially apprehended will of the epoch. Alive. Changing. New." - Mies van der Rohe, architect
Considered by many to be one of the greatest living architects today, American Richard Meier's buildings dot urban landscapes from North America to Europe and Asia, and, soon, the skyline of Tel Aviv. Meier's iconic white architectural work is best grasped by viewing the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Jubilee Church in Rome, both strong examples of the effectiveness of his rationally modernistic, yet minimalistic, design.
Throughout his career, Meier has held a reputation as a designer of predominantly flat, low rising and perpendicular shaped white buildings similar to the ethos of the Bauhaus designs of Tel Aviv. Still, over the past decade, Meier has begun building higher and his newest design, Meier on Rothschild Tower, will be one of the tallest he has has ever done. When it is completed in 2013, Meier's tower will help to redefine the image of Tel Aviv.
The 32-story, 144-meter tower is composed of exposed steel and glass, with a gridded shield surrounding the skin of building covering its balconies, which look out in every direction. The tower is zoned for residential use with an adjacent building housing a high-end shopping center. It will end up being one of the tallest buildings in the city.
"I'm very pleased and honored to have the opportunity to build in Tel Aviv. My first trip to Israel was in 1957 and I traveled throughout the country visiting everywhere," Meier said in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. "I would hope that this building will be an important building that [Israelis] can consider an improvement to the life of the city."
Located directly on the corner of Rothschild and Allenby streets, the scale of the tower will surely benefit from Rothschild's promenade, which allows for pedestrians to view the building from a distance rather than look up directly next to it. Additionally, considering that most of Tel Aviv's buildings are four stories or less, the tower will be clearly visible from most of the city.
"The location in the city, on the corner of Allenby and Rothschild, both of which are historically important, should relate to the importance of the corner," Meier said. "In addition to which, when you're in the apartments and in the building, you're looking out over the whole city.
"The great thing about where we are and where we are building is that it's related to the whole city; it's related to all of the wonderful buildings of the 1930s and to the historic buildings of Rothschild Boulevard. It makes me very happy to be in such company."
Meier is keenly aware that the architecture of Tel Aviv is rooted in the "International Style," an umbrella term that often encompasses what was once known as the Bauhaus school of design and precedes the architectural Modernism of the 1960s. The city holds the world's largest concentration of Bauhaus buildings, 4,000 in total, dating mostly from 1931 to 1956, but also encompassing subsequent designs that were built as a tribute to the style.
Today, Tel Aviv is something of a Bauhaus museum, especially the areas of Ahad Ha'am, Rothschild and Allenby streets, although the area around Rothschild Boulevard has come to present some architectural dichotomies. Rothschild Boulevard itself is quickly becoming a polished business district, with the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and the newly constructed First International Bank of Israel building lending the area a modern, business-like feel.
Ultimately, despite its grand size, the new tower respects its diverse surroundings.
According to Cass Gilbert, the architect of the famous Woolworth Building in New York City, "the skyscraper is a machine that makes the land pay." Meier asserts that he has taken this idea into account and  is confident the building will be a driving economic force in the area.
"I think what is important to me is not simply the building but building in a context. When our building is completed perhaps it will improve the context of the area. I think the measure of Allenby Street will eventually move up," he commented.
Meier's tower could be proof for Tel Aviv that thoughtful architecture has the power to link the past, the present and the future in one broad stroke. Perusing the designs, one is struck by the impression that the tower will command respect in its position, and, ideally, reinvent the pervading Bauhaus fashion while paying tribute to the current architectural climate of Tel Aviv. In fact, Meier could be creating a new architectural subtext for the city with a building that, in his words, "respects the past" and "addresses itself to the future."
But despite its respect for historical context, Meier's design for the tower is still unique.
"For me, also in terms of my work, architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Van der Rohe were great architects, and I have great admiration for their work, but that doesn't mean my work looks like theirs. It doesn't," Meier said. "I think Tel Aviv is a city that is changing in a lot of areas... it's a city that is constantly renewing itself and I think this tower is part of that process of change."
Globally speaking, the addition of the edifice is a huge score for the city in that it brings with it the things that Meier's style represents, namely modernity and positive public relations.
In 2009, Tel Aviv's centennial offered a unique opportunity to put into perspective the architecture of the young city, which naturally begged the question of where Tel Aviv is headed in its next 100 years.  Today, with the soon-to-be-completed tower and a bevy of new architectural projects on the horizon, it is clear that Tel Aviv is moving quickly forward in building up its cultural relevance.
With the infusion of Meier's creative ingenuity, Tel Aviv's sails are billowing with the creative winds of the moment. Just like Israel, the tower is loud and brash in its confidence, a bold confirmation of Tel Aviv's arrival on the architectural scene.