Renovations that aren’t just a question of money

Tama (meaning National Master Plan) 38 originated with the goal of reinforcing the foundations of older existing apartment buildings in Israel in order that they be able to withstand earthquakes.

Its third amendment, which permits the construction of an additional two and a half floors, has made the plan an attractive and viable economic alternative for developers. In exchange for their agreement to permit building on the roof of their building, owners of existing apartments are offered an additional room, terrace, safe room and elevator and the existing utilities infrastructure of their building upgraded, at no cost to them whatever. The developer becomes the owner of the additional apartments. In Jerusalem alone, some 3,000 new apartments are expected to be built within the framework of this plan, tens of thousands nation-wide, helping to increase urban residential density.

Sounds good? Not so fast. Apartment owners are faced with a host of problems. Apart from the complexities of getting all owners of apartments in their building to agree and having to choose a reliable developer and building contractor, not to mention having to ward off neighbors objections, there are a great many design factors that go into the making of a successful project of this kind. Following are some of the main design considerations owners of existing apartments should be aware of.

Lengthy existing buildings need to have their mass sensitively broken down in order to achieve human scale. Individual home units should be expressed on the building’s exterior to the maximum extent possible, your apartment easily identifiable from the outside.

Consider the manner in which you arrive at your apartment as important as the apartment itself. Respectful, well-defined entrances, well-related to bordering streets and grounds are essential. Transition points between private, semiprivate and public space need to be articulated. Security in mind, reasonably transparent lobbies would enable natural surveillance — eye contact with the outside.

Plans must obviously allow for sufficient natural light and air to enter the existing apartments once the additions are completed. Fully exploit the building’s ground level. Wherever possible, permitting private gardens for the ground level apartments, with the agreement of all owners, will not only add to the value of those apartments but also insure their being cared for over the life of the building at minimal maintenance cost. Surrounding your building with greenery will, needless to say, greatly improve the project.

Often illegally enclosed, well-framed terraces would help contain future building additions. Laundry screens, exterior air conditioners and window bars often deface facades. These elements must be given the serious design attention they deserve. Rooftop solar heaters should be as out of sight as possible.

Landscaping should never be left an afterthought. Ideally, a landscape architect should be part of the design team from the start. A parking space is required for each additional apartment. At-grade parking, always carefully landscaped, should never detract from pedestrian entrances. Pedestrian ways leading to parking need not terminate with the headlights or rear end of some car. Large asphalt expanses are to be avoided. Access ramps to underground parking should be situated as out of the way as possible. We don’t want to see six-meter wide black holes.

As the developer will become the owner of all the apartments on the upper stories, his interest will naturally be focused on their design. Make certain equal care is accorded the improvement of the existing apartments. The final design incorporating existing and new construction must be totally integrated, so much so you won’t be able to distinguish the difference between them.

Steer away from Tama 38 firms and others that turn out a project a day on their computers just in time to go to their next one. Quality design never lends itself to assembly-line production techniques. Two building projects, meters apart, having identical building program requirements, budgets, construction engineers and project managers can turn out to be poles apart in design quality. Aesthetic considerations such as building proportions, choice of materials, thoughtful detailing and decisions on color, can make the difference between a poor project and a successful one.

Physical circumstances permitting, in the hands of a gifted architect, Tama 38 presents an opportunity to greatly enhance the appearance of your building. Keep well in mind that your most critical design decision will be your choice of architect.

Gerard Heumann —¬†Architect and Town Planner, Jerusalem

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