Gerard Heumann

Design for a neighborhood based on social open space

The design for a neighborhood in Northwest Beer-Sheva briefly described below was approved but not built, its client, the Ministry of Housing.

Methodology: architects were given a pre-prepared outline master plan plus programs, the neighborhood subdivided into four parts. Bi-weekly meetings were held with the Chief Architect and District Architect of the Housing Ministry who were there to guide us as well as insure unity between the neighborhood’s different parts.

The site, 26 hectares in area, was mainly orthogonal, urban in nature with gentle topography. There were height limitations due to a nearby airbase. The program called for 1000 home units, 100 of them single-family, public buildings and open spaces. Proposed commercial land use was disallowed.

The project in Beer-sheva. (courtesy)

Its basic design principles: respect for the existing and proposed urban context, an organized and coherent complexity comprising a variety of residential building types, sustainability, continuity and unity. Creating social public and private open spaces having an interesting spatial sequence – open/closed/open, a key goal.

At the heart of the complex a central park, two smaller parks strategically located. Eight different residential building types were developed for private homes, cottages, garden apartments and multi- family residential buildings, each with their private open space. Surrounding multi-purpose open spaces were two schools, situated at intersections, close to bus stops. Kindergartens and day care centers enclosed protected open space, Small synagogues had squares, enabling people to meet before and after prayers. Building heights varied from 2-8 stories.

The street system which was varied as well, included shared paths, local and collectors with buses. Most parking was designed underground, parking at grade behind buildings, ramps discretely placed. The whole was sensitively landscaped, a green buffer zone between the neighborhood and an existing arterial road to the south.

A highly detailed statutory plan which included, inter alia, plans, sections, elevations and 3d drawings for each residential building was prepared in the final stage.

But after years of work on the part of tens of professionals and the approval of the District Committee, millions of shekels in public monies went down the drain.

What was finally built? It was the Israel Lands Administration, the owner of the land that decided to redesign the entire area with private homes alone. As this building type is small, necessitated was the construction of many more roads and utilities, a most costly enterprise making no economic sense whatsoever. The result: a monotonous, dull and lifeless “neighborhood”, undeserving of that term, the antithesis of the values we integrated into our design.

Where money and power alone reign, there is little hope for quality design and a better environment. The poorly designed and repetitive residential towers flooding our cities today, albeit on a far larger scale, are the product of this very same mentality. Unsuited to families with children and Israeli society, their highly destructive social impacts are certain to be felt in the future. The importance of thoughtful, comprehensive, long-range and three-dimensional planning cannot be over-emphasized.

Gerard Heumann – Architect and Town Planner, Jerusalem

About the Author
Gerard Heumann is an architect and town planner in Jerusalem.