Dialogue between New and Old
Preserving the spirit of a historic environment does not necessarily mean a fanatic repetition of its language. The Nachalat Binyamin quarter in Tel-Aviv, with the city's central food market at its center, dates back to the early 1930s, the "eclectic period" when European architecture was brought to Israel and integrated with the local oriental architecture.
The new project is located on a side pedestrian street adjacent to the food market. In contrast to contemporary apartment buildings, most of which create an anonymous and uniform environment, thus providing little more than shelter, here my effort was to design a building that would preserve and enhance the spirit of what still exists around there, which is so human and right.
Adopting none of the classical approaches, I aimed neither to reconstruct the past nor to dissociate from it by enforcing a completely new order. I sought a language that would create in Hashomer Street a meaningful dialogue between the contemporary building and the historic context.
The dimensions of the building are proportionate to the human scale of the street. The white-washed facade, gradually changing in color from the ground floor up, complements the blue of the sky and the gold of the aluminum frames, painting a harmony that inspires peace and serenity in the street.
The cornices that jut out at the facade, being the extension of the periphery beams and the corner columns protruding from the wall, clarifying the structural elements of the building, delineate the common boundary of the building and to the space next to it, thus uniting them.
The dialogue between the building and the street continues through the high windows as well as the balconies overlooking the street. The walk from the street to the building is via a sequence of transition areas that open onto each other and bring the residents home gradually.
Dialogue Continues Inside
The semi-private garden along the side of the building is entered via a gate from the sidewalk. Orange trees planted along the path adorn the building's main entrance door. This main door leads to a staircase that opens onto a spacious lobby at the different levels of the building. High windows offering a view to the garden illuminate that space.
The pattern of gradual transition from the public street to the private building, by spaces that both connect and separate them, is repeated inside the apartments. Behind the door, an entrance hall leads sequentially from the lobby of the apartments to the living areas and out to the balconies.
Each apartment was designed slightly differently, according to its specific location in the building, so that it interlocks either with the street or the garden next to it. At the front of the ground floor there are shops that open onto the pedestrian street, forming an extension to the arts and crafts fair held there.
The back portion of the ground floor features small studio apartments opening onto private gardens. On the higher floors are one- and two-bedroom apartments. Those at the top level have roof terraces that offer a magnificent view of the Mediterranean Sea in the distance.
Very high windows, plaster for the exterior, stone for window sills and thresholds, and decorated mosaic tiles in the floors and stairs all originated from the common architectural language of the old quarter where this building was erected.
I designed the details of the interior to be seen not as isolated intentional fragments, but as part of a hierarchical language in which the street, the building, and the interior are regarded as one continuous whole.
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Nili Portugali, Architect A.A.Dip., R.I.B.A., is a lecturer at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design Architectural Department, Jerusalem, and a practicing architect working in Israel for the last 20 years. Her search for order of human environment has focused both on practice and theory.