Contemporary Design with Historic Jerusalem – Final Post

In conceptualization and conversation, Jerusalem is known for what it was or for its significance to particular groups, rather than to the structure of the city itself. As my first formal foray into contemporary architectural history, I studied the dominant architectural styles of the latter half of the twentieth century, particularly from 1970 onwards. I analyzed the built environment of Jerusalem through three architectural styles, focusing on the Old City and several areas of the city immediately surrounding it.

Though I did not initially intend my research to turn in this direction, most of my examples came from areas of the city settled by Jewish inhabitants, rather than distinctly Christian, Muslim, or Palestinian. This occurrence was likely due to the fact that I sought to disengage political or religious sentiments from this paper, as much as is possible from a paper concerning Jerusalem. 

The first architectural style I analyzed was Neo-Bauhaus. This style is derived from the common Bauhaus, or International Style of architecture that dominates Tel Aviv and is found throughout Jerusalem. Neo-Bauhaus, as its stylistic successor, retains distinctive elements like “thermometer” windows and curved balconies. I argue that the continued use of this style, particularly within historic neighborhoods such as Rehavia, seeks to maintain a link to the early days of the Israeli state. Homes, like the one below, blend these standard architectural elements with elements for contemporary consumers, maintaining the continuity of the built environment while maintaining a lively neighborhood community.

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A later introduction to the architectural panoply of Jerusalem is the Neo-Oriental Style. It began after 1970 as Israeli architects, such as Moshe Safdie, sought to develop a style for Jerusalem that connected to the land and sought to evoke historic styles of architecture. My primary example was the Mamilla Center, designed by Safdie’s firm and constructed just west of the Jaffa Gate in the late 1980’s. Featuring soaring rounded arches and building structures that mimicked uncontrolled building practices. Though distinctively new construction, the Mamilla Center creates a dynamic space for Arab and Jewish residents of the city, as well as tourists to shop and enjoy public life.

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Finally, I examined how Brutalist architecture in Jerusalem, particularly in the Old City seeks to connect to the broader architectural trend of Brutalism across the Israeli state. Yeshivat HaKotel, overlooking the Western Wall, uses the geometric forms of Brutalism to blend in with the older buildings of the Jewish Quarter. Because of its angular elements and stacking, staggered form, the Brutalist style is particularly suitable to the Jewish Quarter. Other residences nearby are also constructed in the Brutalist style, likewise helping new residences feel like they have been present within the Jewish Quarter of the Old City for decades longer. 

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One of the primary challenges of this project was finding the initial direction of my research. I spent the first four weeks of my research engaged in reading a survey of material covering topics of: the spread of religious persons within the Old City, planning in Jerusalem during British Mandate, the political nature of some construction in Jerusalem, among other topics. 

Not relying upon the structure of a class or an independent study made me even more actively engage refining my paper. Each time I reviewed, sometimes nearly rewriting my paper, I sought to refine how I approached the topic. I eventually decided upon a formal analysis of architectural styles, followed by information supporting my argument that “architectural design practices in Jerusalem, particularly after 1970, seek to utilize continuity in the built environment to develop social cohesion.”

The project, “Contemporary Design within Historic Jerusalem” allowed me to expand the purview of my study as an art history major. Through my research, I analyzed how social aims were manifest through architecture and how regions of Jerusalem were carefully shaped to promote particular values and goals. Personally, I found that I saw the city differently; the landscape became more vibrant as I saw buildings as connections to styles and to broader regions. I am immensely grateful for the support of the Jacobs Scholarship to conduct this research and consider this first foray into architectural history a success.

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