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In a world of its own

Following years of construction, the new National Library of Israel in the Government Center, built with funds donated by the Rothchild (Yad Hanadiv) and Gottesman families, is slated to open its doors in October.

The subject of an architectural competition some time ago. Its winner, Israeli architect Rafi Segal, was disqualified due to alleged plagiarism. A second internal competition was held with just six firms invited.

Chosen to design it were architects Herzog and De Meuron based in Basel Switzerland, who have completed no less than six hundred projects in 40 countries on three continents. They are just the last in a long line of starchitects designing and building in Israel. An incomplete list: Gehry, Liebeskind, Meier, Pei, Calatrava and Foster have all been here, at times with highly problematic results. Needless to say, this trend of outsourcing significant public buildings weakens the architectural profession here.

Graceful and well-proportioned, the stone structure, some 120 meters in length with its gently curved concave roof is raised on a two story podium, much of it glazed. Of the highest standard, both inside and out, is its detailing and execution.
Essentially a large-scale sculpture with a formal architectural language all its own and surrounded by green, it is totally unrelated to its neighbors. The Ministry of Finance to the north has been fenced off. Opposite the Israel Museum to the south stands a new outdoor amphitheater. Its main entrance on Kaplan Street is forced as the building’s form is complete without it. The flat roof over the main central library space might have been handled differently, domed for example.

Given the library’s importance and stupendous cost – over 900 million NIS, possibly the most costly single building ever built in Israel, a pity we haven’t any architectural historians and critics of stature here to relate to it.

Could not the existing National Library in Hebrew University’s Givat-Ram campus, considered a masterpiece of Israeli architecture, been renovated and expanded? Was the new building’s construction necessary and on this particular site?

Now that the building stands it is hoped that a great many Israeli citizens will wish to visit. We’ll have to wait and see.

Gerard Heumann – Architect and Town Planner, Jerusalem

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