What residential towers mean for our way of life

A single building type — “point blocks” — four to six apartments surrounding a vertical circulation core, continues to flood all of Israel’s major cities from north to south on an ever larger scale as if the entire history of architecture and urban design didn’t exist and there were no alternatives.

With comprehensive, long-range and three-dimensional plans lacking, most of the towers that have been built display a criminal disregard for their physical and natural environmental context, public open space – streets and squares, an afterthought. Thirty and forty story towers have been built and proposed everywhere: on the first line of our limited and precious Mediterranean coastline with no consideration for those landlocked behind, within the visual basin of Jerusalem’s Old City, in historic neighborhoods such as Jerusalem’s Rehavia and the village of Ein Karem.

What is life like inside these towers? The journey to work involves taking the elevator to the underground garage, coming home in much the same way. But people don’t meet in elevators and underground garages. Children haven’t at all been considered. The streets outside – the all-important public realm, critical for social interaction, become superfluous, the neighborhood and the city, dead.

Point blocks, if you will, are thick columns set back from streets, interrupting their continuity. Unrelated to the width of adjacent streets and boulevards, they limit natural light and air.

As hi-rise buildings stand out, aesthetic considerations – their proportions, materials and how they meet the ground are therefore paramount. But talented architects are rare. Eyesores, including a great many monstrosities have been the result. Thanks to computer assisted design, an over-repetitive, anaesthetizing – photocopy architecture, has become the rule.

Microclimate issues abound. Towers create wind tunnel effects, casting shadows on lower neighboring buildings and public open space. Hi-density housing draws heavy traffic to their area, air and noise pollution the result.

Residential towers are costly to build and maintain, their maintenance costs often beyond the ability of residents to pay. Management firms, sometimes at odds with residents, are taken on to care for them.

Towers are not adaptable to change and difficult to demolish. What happens when they deteriorate?

There are in fact many ways reasonable economic urban density can be achieved, building area distributed. In Paris and Barcelona, for example, both cities intensively built, continuous building seven to eight stories in height up to the street line has taller building at major intersections

Inevitably the day will come when the severe damage inflicted by this tsunami of residential towers for generations will finally be understood.

Gerard Heumann – Architect and Town Planner, Jerusalem

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