Living in bubbles

Back in the 1970s a young couple cushioned the blow of building by using a huge balloon as a foundation.

house int 88 224 (photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
house int 88 224
(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
'Asking us if we like our home in this shape is like asking a snail if he likes his shell," says Yehuda Arran. "We are so used to it, we don't even notice how unusual it is." Together with his wife, Miriam, they have lived in their igloo-shaped home for nearly 30 years and raised their eight children there. In the late 1970s this building method was fairly popular because it proved to be cheaper than conventional bricks and mortar. As a young couple with limited means it seemed the answer to their desire for a private home on a large piece of land. "The moshav, Gimzo, had been established in 1948 with a mixed population of Moroccans and Hungarians," Yehuda tells me. "Every family was given two cows and told to get on with it." But the project faltered. There were many burglaries. Arabs who had lived there before came back to try to find buried treasure, and the different ethnic backgrounds were not a good mix. By the beginning of the '70s, only 20 families remained and the founders - originally members of Poalei Agudat Yisrael - agreed to let anyone join. For the first 10 years of this open policy, new arrivals received a house with land. For the next arrivals, of which this family was one, only land was given. So they had carte blanche to build whatever they wanted. "We liked the architecture and the appearance, but frankly it was the cheapness of it that convinced us," they say. The method of building is simple. A huge PVC balloon is blown up and on this metal bars are laid where the windows will be. Cement is sprayed onto this balloon and the pipes for electricity and water laid in this. The windows are cut out and when it all hardens the balloon is deflated and the rubber is pulled through the window opening. Planning the house and deciding where the windows should go took a year, but they had plenty of advice from family members, one of whom is a building engineer. Not surprisingly the method of building has its downside. Although the climate control is good, seeping dampness is a constant problem. Three "bubbles" make up the home - one for the main living area and the kitchen, one for the children's wing and the third for the factory of their business, Shesh Moshzar, a well-established decorative textile company providing all kinds of appliquéd and embroidered cloth for ritual purposes. Here all kinds of Torah covers, ark curtains, tablecloths, tallit bags and halla covers are manufactured. "When we moved into the house there was a problem with acoustics," they say. "But by hanging different handworked pictures on the walls, it reduced the echo which was a result of the high ceilings." Eventually they turned what had been Miriam's hobby into a thriving business. Not all the wall decorations are textile, however. On the right wall going out into the jungle-like back garden, they have hung old gardening implements, some of which were found while they were building the house. Furnishing such a home could be challenging, but they just put in what they already had, and for the sitting area in the living room built a circular stone construction softened with cushions. All the entrances in this part of the house are open archways, but conventional doors are fitted to the bedrooms. Some of the older children have moved out, but when the family was young they used to share, three to a bedroom. "I felt it was very important that they should learn to live together and share," says Miriam. Because of its position set in the undergrowth of the moshav, mosquitoes are a problem and all the beds have white mosquito netting protecting them. Several of the rooms double up as offices. Outside in the wild garden, left untended because of shmita considerations, Yehuda tells me that one great advantage of this kind of building is that it's strong and will withstand earthquakes. But Miriam would not recommend it although she is very happy in her home. "If you are a perfectionist, it's not for you," she says. Do you feel you own one of Israel's most beautiful homes? Please e-mail: [email protected]