Social Construction: Modern Architecture in British Mandate Palestine

Social Construction: Modern Architecture in British Mandate Palestine

The exhibition Social Construction: Modern Architecture in British Mandate Palestine, tracing the influence of international Modernism on the architectural vernacular that developed in Palestine during 1917–48, is on display at the Yale Architecture Gallery from August 31to November 18, 2017. Originally organized by the Israel Museum, in Jerusalem, the show draws inspiration from the extensive research of architects Ada Karmi-Melamede and Dan Price, whose accompanying book, Architecture in Palestine during the British Mandate, 1917–1948, explores not only the functional aspects of this new architecture but also the social values that shaped the defining language of this new architectural style. The original exhibition was curated and designed by Oren Sagiv, chief of exhibition design at the Israel Museum, with Eyal Rozen.

Zlotopolsky House, 9 Gorgod Street Tel Aviv­ Jaffa, Architect: Dov Karmi. Image © Itzhak Kalter

The exhibition explores the design and functionality of the new Modernist architecture that developed in the early twentieth century in cities including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa, as well as the social values of the new land that were reflected in this style. Focusing on projects realized between 1930 and ’40, Social Construction features more than sixty archival photographs of the architectural icons of the time and roughly forty interpretive and analytical ink-on-Mylar drawings executed over the past twenty years.

15 Melchett Street, Tel Aviv­Jaffa, Avraham Berger and Yitzhak Mandelbaum. Image © Itzhak Kalter

A focus in the show is the way urban centers emerged from the influence of international Modernism while forming a unique architectural language inspired by the ambitions to establish a new state and create a new social order. The influx of immigration to Palestine following the Russian revolution of 1905 and the concurrent political upheavals in Eastern Europe brought a generation of architects who embraced Modernism as a new beginning. This imported language spread across the landscape to create a uniquely local vernacular that expressed the ideological foundations of the new society.

May Cinema, 5 Hassan Shukri Street, Haifa, Architect Yehuda Lilienfeld. Image © Itzhak Kalter

The master plans developed during the British Mandate for each of the region’s major cities also show varying degrees of Modernist architectural influence based on their existing urban footprints. Modern materials and forms were adapted in response to the climate and geography of the region. Tel Aviv in particular was perceived as a “blank slate,” open to the embrace of new architectural modes.

Bat Galim Casino, Haifa, 1934, Architect Alfred Goldberger. Image © Itzhak Kalter

This exhibition focuses on three phases of design, each presented in a separate section: “Architectural Precedents,” new to the show at Yale, focuses on buildings inspired by a classical, colonial, or Byzantine architecture as well as by early Modernist notions. “Emergence of a Modernist Language,” which was the focus of the original exhibition, includes buildings that were influenced largely by the principles of European Modernism and its rigor. The spatial language of the buildings is clearer and hierarchical, and lends itself to fewer interpretations. The third section, also added to the Yale exhibition “Hybrid Modernism,” focuses on buildings that relied on the Modernist language but were no longer entirely given over to its tenets or syntax.

Bialik School, Levinsky Street Tel Aviv­Jaffa, 1930’s, Architetc Ya’acov Shiffman Ben Sira. Image © Itzhak Kalter

Highlighting the architectural vocabulary of the time, the exhibition explores such attributes as double-layer facades, public use of rooftops, mixed expressions of engagement with the street, the intermingling of public sidewalks and private gardens, and the typology of workers’ housing. Case studies include Shmuel (Sam) Barkai’s Aginsky House (1934) and Lubin House (1937); Alfred Goldberger’s Bat Galim Casino (1934); Dov Karmi’s Max Liebling House (1936); Theodor Menkes’sGlass House (1938); Zeev Rechter’s Angel House (1933); and Arieh Sharon’s Workers’ Housing (“Meonot Ovdim,” 1937).

Workers’ Housing, City block of Frishman, Dov Hoz, Frug Streets, Tel Aviv­Jaffa, 1934, Architect Arieh Sharon. Image © Itzhak Kalter

Karmi-Melamede, who will give a gallery talk on September 15, designed the Supreme Court building in Jerusalem (1992), the campus of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya (1993), the Open University in Ra’anana (2004), among many other projects. Establishing her own firm in 1992, she has also been a professor of architecture at Columbia University (1977–82), Yale School of Architecture(1985 and 1993), and the University of Pennsylvania (1991).

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Cite: "Social Construction: Modern Architecture in British Mandate Palestine" 10 Sep 2017. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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