Last week I enjoyed the ultimate architectural feast, in the form of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I first went to Israel over thirty years ago, and have been visiting regularly for the past twenty, and what always strikes me is the unique contrast of ancient and modern.
Jerusalem is home to some of the oldest architecture of Israel, with the 2000 year old Western Wall perhaps its most famous landmark. The sheer scale of this wall is breathtaking, as is the size of the individual stones and the ingenuity with which they were positioned with just basic hydraulics and manpower. Just to touch the stones is to connect with history, and it never ceases to make a profound impression upon me.
Jerusalem is also home to ancient domestic architecture and its characterful streets, the most famous of which is perhaps the Via Dolorosa, along which Jesus is said to have walked to his crucifixion, and now home to a myriad of market stalls.
In sharp contrast is some of the new hotel architecture being built in the city, most of which blends very successfully with its historic surroundings.
In some ways Israel is lucky to be such a young country (only 68 years old), as it hasn’t had time to commit some of the more painful architectural misdemeanours of modern times. Instead it has a relatively small volume of hastily erected corporate and domestic buildings, which date back to the birth and early days of the country, but these are rapidly being replaced by some of the most innovative architecture in the world, and the pace at which it is happening in Tel Aviv is perhaps the most exciting thing of all to witness.
Every time I visit, there is some new construction to see. The vast majority of it is aesthetically pleasing and at its most successful, sits brilliantly alongside the older architecture. I like the way that some of the original buildings, whilst humble from an architectural perspective, have been preserved because of their historic and emotional significance as part of the birth of this young nation. But all around them, there is a sense of a country forging ahead to prove that it is at the forefront of art, design and technology, all of which are evident in its new constructions.
Israel is an architectural work in progress, and the speed at which it is achieving this transformation makes it almost a piece of performance theatre, with a new show every day. I love it.