September 24, 2023

Looking upward: Global architects reimagine Tel Aviv skyline, blending new and old

6 min read
Looking upward: Global architects reimagine Tel Aviv skyline, blending new and old

Architects from South Korea, Germany, and Israel have come up with the top design ideas to define Tel Aviv’s skyline in the future, factoring in urban renewal efforts to build upward together with the city’s Bauhaus-rich past.

The winning ideas were part of a design competition by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, Layer 2.0, which asked participants to look creatively at how the city can evolve in the coming decades. The contest challenged architects and architecture students from around the world to design extensions to one of a number of existing buildings in Tel Aviv and Jaffa in ways that could define the next phase of the city’s architecture.

The challenge attracted more than 100 entries from architecture firms around the world, and from students from Israel’s architecture programs in the Technion, the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and Tel Aviv University, as well as from global institutions. Contestants were asked to produce designs for 2.5 floors to go on top of one of five selected listed buildings on Bialik Street, Rothschild Boulevard, and Ahad Ha’am Street in Tel Aviv, and Ruhama and Nehama streets in adjacent Jaffa.

Participants were asked to come up with ideas that are sympathetic to the modernist past, that are environmentally intelligent, and that could help to maintain a diverse population.

City engineer for Tel Aviv-Jaffa Udi Carmely, a competition judge, told The Times of Israel, “Most of the conflicts we have on a daily basis are about what is right and what is wrong for the future narrative of the city. There is a constant tension between development and conservation.”

Tel Aviv’s White City is a UNESCO world heritage site, having been listed in 2003 and described as encapsulating “the innovative town-planning ideas of the first part of the 20th century” in its “representation of some of the most significant trends of Modern Movement in architecture, as it developed in Europe.”

Looking upward: Global architects reimagine Tel Aviv skyline, blending new and old

Photographer Barak Brinker’s view of Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus beauty from Bialik Square (Courtesy Barak Brinker)

A UNESCO listing can increase tourism and investment in a location but also puts pressure on how it grows, with planners having to maintain the areas listed while looking at how to develop the urban environment.

On Sunday, a jury of international architects and representatives of the municipality announced the winners of the competition in two tracks — architect and student — whose concepts combined upward-building, sustainability, co-living, and shared public spaces.

The first prize on the architect track was shared by a team from South Korea and an architect from Germany.

The Korean project consisted of a wooden structure that appeared to float on top of the original building on Ruhama Street in Jaffa. The design included a buffer zone — an open floor for community space to encourage people to mingle, which also acted to channel ventilation through the whole structure. The double wooden skin of the extension was designed to deliver fresh air and protection from the sun throughout. The upper floors included shared living space in the form of kitchens and salon areas which could be used by more than one private apartment, thereby reducing individual apartment sizes, and costs. It included public space alongside the residential units and communal areas. The structure was modular to make assembly easier, and also used materials that were lighter weight, to limit the impact on the building below.

This design project by Marc Brossa, Prof. Kyung-ju Hwang, TaeYoung Yeo, Chae-rin Kim, Yoon-hee Kim, and Jeong-woo Son won first prize at the Tel Aviv Municipality’s Layer 2.0 architecture competition on May 8, 2022. The design concept builds on an existing structure in Jaffa. (Layer 2.0 / Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality)

The German entry built above an existing modernist building on Sgula Street just off Ruhama Street in Jaffa in concrete, without building directly onto it. The new structure is supported with pillars, creating additional shaded courtyard space that can be used for food stalls and socializing at ground level. It also introduced shared space to the roof area to encourage apartment residents to mingle, with a mix of apartments from two to five rooms built into the extension.

This design project, by Berlin-based architect Lion Schreiber, won first prize at the Tel Aviv Municipality’s Layer 2.0 architecture competition on May 8, 2022. The concept builds on an existing building on Tel Aviv’s Segula Street. (Layer 2.0 / Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality)

The student winner was Gali Schechner from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa whose design, also on the building on Sgula Street, delivered two residential floors with a kindergarten on the roof of the extension. The addition is surrounded by vegetation and the apartments created are shielded from the summer sun by horizontal or vertical shutters, which were designed to let the sun in during the winter months. Schechner also configured a shelter for each apartment, built into the inner zone of the building to limit changes to the original structure visible from the street.

The jury felt that the proposal “had the power to change the city’s approach to building extensions.”

The second prize, also awarded to a Technion student, Shadan Jayousi, offered an urban community greenhouse built in layers upwards alongside new apartments, to encourage growth within the urban environment. An additional public balcony at the bottom of the extension was designed to offer more public space and also to function as a farmers’ market.

This design concept by Technion student Shadan Jayousi won second prize in the student track of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality’s Layer 2.0 architecture competition on May 8, 2022. ((Layer 2.0 / Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality)

Participants were encouraged to be creative rather than complying with building codes. Prizes were financial, while the involvement of Tel Aviv municipal leaders, and Israeli architects working extensively in the city area, means that there is potential interest and engagement in using ideas from the competition for the city’s future development.

Sharon Golan Yoran, architect, competition organizer, and head of Tel Aviv’s architecture center Liebling Haus, explained to The Times of Israel that “the city is defined by its horizontal lines. Once you start to top up buildings you interrupt those. Extensions can look heavy and it’s also not right that they should seek solely to imitate the design of the original building.”

The Layer 2.0 competition judges “were looking for designs that show respect for the historical object they are building on, but which deal with contemporary social and climatic issues, and are innovative, experimental and achievable,” said Yoran.

“Making building additions is difficult. It’s unethical simply to imitate the original building. And all buildings leave a legacy behind them. I know the city is eager to see how far some of the designs can be used going forward,” Yoran added.

Dr. Jeremie Hoffmann, head of conservation for the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, said, “We need to think about long-term concepts of architecture as a second layer of the history of the city. We would like to open this discourse to new ideas and new concepts, and to use the results of this competition as a tool for us to continue thinking about these questions and maybe change the direction.”

Tel Aviv has already shared plans to fill certain neighborhoods of the city with skyscrapers. It recognizes the need to preserve the feel of the older parts of the city while meeting the demand for housing. However, there is concern that upgrading older properties only helps to increase prices to buy and to rent, which risks driving out diverse communities that have always characterized Tel Aviv.

A general view shows the center of Tel Aviv, Israel, on Thursday, December 2, 2021. (AP/Oded Balilty)

One way of tackling this problem has been to build a limited number of additional floors on existing buildings. The nationwide TAMA 38 scheme supports this, providing a route for developers to build and sell extra stories of existing buildings while enhancing the fabric and facilities of the existing property.

Because of Tel Aviv’s particular architectural challenges, the program has been and continues to be extremely popular there. But it creates what the experts call a second layer in the city, a set of new designs built on top of the original older built environment. The purpose of the competition was to think about what that should look like and how new building could relate to the original city.