Tribute to an Icon

The National Library of Israel in Givat Ram, Jerusalem. (@Building.Jerusalem on Instagram, courtesy)

The new National Library building, designed by Hertzog and De Meuron, is finally showing above its site fence. Let’s reserve judgement until its completion, and instead use this opportunity to pay tribute to its predecessor.

For centuries, the Jewish nation defined itself as the People of the Book. The National Library building in Givat Ram was the first architectural manifestation of its defining values: historical record, acquisition of knowledge, and development of reasoning skills. Its modern refinement deferred focus to the pursuits occurring within, and created an introspective atmosphere.

The iconic architectural style of the library was, at the time, most closely associated with the developing buildings of Tel Aviv, and many considered it contrary to the ancient nature of Jerusalem. Polished stone, exposed concrete, curtain walls and brise soleil were foreign to Jerusalem before the development of Givat Ram. They didn’t justify their use by claiming symbolism beyond function. However, the campus’s success brought an explosion of Modernist buildings throughout the city.

The aesthetic construct of the National Library building has endured surprisingly well. It has a modest glory and intimate beauty. In the words of Esther Zandberg, “the heart aches in face of the building quality and good taste that has all but disappeared since, in Israeli architecture.” Of course, the prowess of an unlikely team of architects that created the library’s stellar plans could not predict the change in function that the internet revolution would demand of the nation’s leading research facility. The National Library building in Givat Ram will remain iconic as a solution to a specific functional challenge, but the change in the Library’s function demands that the contemporary generation create new answers.

About the Author
Liba grew up in New York, thinking of Jerusalem as a far-off place to visit in prayer. Today, she practices architecture in what she now knows is a very real, contemporary city, with all the potential in the world. Liba encourages discussion about architecture in Jerusalem @Building.Jerusalem on Instagram.
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