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Maier Yagod holds a Masters of Architecture degree from the University of Toronto and a Bachelors degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is a practicing architect. He is the founder of the “Jerusalem Playground and Open Spaces Research Group” and the the “Parametric Playground Research Group”. He lives in Musrara, Jerusalem

Micro-architecture at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem - Play and Placemaking as Cultural Artifact

I first came across this structure when visiting the Israel Museum a number of months ago. Construction had yet to be completed; perhaps this is the best time to assess a structure, since one can see the bare structure and its workings. The simple yet sophisticated construction embodies what is sometimes lacking in architecture, namely subtlety.Its  finesse in detailing, craftsmanship and professionalism are apparent in what has been described by the creators as “micro- architecture”.

Photography by Amit Geron.  Image courtesy of  Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

Photography by Amit Geron.
Image courtesy of Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

The two architects Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman have managed to bring Israel playscape design to a new level. Although they are quite modest in describing it as such, this area in the museum seems to have been utterly rejuvenated and transformed.  I remember it as having been a rather sad, dark space, having spent many years at the museum as a child. The area where the structure was erected used to include a simple sandbox with a statue situated within it. The sandbox was framed by a concrete bench and surrounded by a number of other concrete benches.

Study model.  Image courtesy of  Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

Study model.
Image courtesy of Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

 

In a comprehensive and intriguing talk given by the designers at the Bezalel School of Architecture the two architects described the entire process of design and construction.  Their first challenge was the museum site itself.  The museum has a very specific architectural and spatial character, situated on a prominent hillside within the city.  It was designed by one of Israel's most regarded architects Alfred Mansfeld, and recently renovated by Efrat-Kowalsky Architects. This challenge meant that the designers had to present a proposal which would compliment and improve the space, without competing with it’s particular character. “No concrete” they were told,  “There is enough concrete here.” (paraphrase).

Photography by Amit Geron.  Image courtesy of  Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

Photography by Amit Geron.
Image courtesy of Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

 

The area in which the structure was to be created is the entrance to the Youth Wing of the museum and serves as a square in which groups congregate to start their museum tours.  The Director of the Youth Wing, Tali Gavish, described this area to me as an intermediate space in which families, children, parents, the elderly and people of various abilities pause, relax and casually interact.

Photography by Amit Geron.  Image courtesy of  Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

Photography by Amit Geron.
Image courtesy of Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

 

In the centre of the proposed construction area stands a sole tree. This presented the almost symbolic challenge that faces every designer; how to incorporate the living organism into the design.  The designers decided to frame the tree in a manner not dissimilar to Lacaton & Vasals 1998 project designed in Cap Ferret, France. The framing of the tree - creating a child’s lookout, and ultimately the “framing” of every tour that embarks from this point makes this a vital, dynamic locus within the museum complex.

Photography by Amit Geron.  Image courtesy of  Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

Photography by Amit Geron.
Image courtesy of Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

Various sketches were submitted by the architects even after they were awarded the commission. The process of selection of design, experimentation and development seemed to continue from conception to inauguration. They had only one year to create the space.

Photography by Amit Geron.  Image courtesy of  Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

Photography by Amit Geron.
Image courtesy of Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

The designers describe how they wanted to create a feeling of detachment from the ground and to lift the structure into the realm of imagination; providing a sense of a proverbial treehouse. The concepts of “up” and “down”, “inner” and “outer” views, places and destinations were central to their design.

Photography by Amit Geron.  Image courtesy of  Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

Photography by Amit Geron.
Image courtesy of Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

At some point in the design process the two realized that they were dealing with “giant furniture” rather than “micro-architecture”, and that the language and the rhythm of the structure should take its vocabulary more from the tradition of furniture design than from architecture. The detailing had to be executed with micro-precision, also due to the fact that that Standards Institution of Israel scrutinized the design and construction down to every nut and bolt. This attention to detail proved to be important and useful, as they found that they were creating a space for the proportions of a child. We know from the writings of Richard Dattner that thinking of the proportions of both parents and children, creates spaces that are unique and challenging to children. The entire structure was created by a series of wooden joints, hiding the structural rafters in a way that makes the structure both visible and integral to the entire design. A type of an honest modernist gesture, clear to all that use it.

Photography by Amit Geron.  Image courtesy of  Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

Photography by Amit Geron.
Image courtesy of Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

When construction was almost complete the official from the Standards Institution of Israel insisted that a net be placed around the tree (“because apparently in playgrounds children are not allowed to come in physical contact with real trees”), but this too meshed into the design. So the result is a complete sinuous form.

Cleverly lit, the structure becomes a sculptural element during the evening, transforming itself into an object of art which enables this space to become a nocturnal vision. The benches that compliment the structure surround the tree house.  Some of these can be shifted in order to create fora for those preparing to embark on tours of the museum.

Photograph by Amit Geron.  Image courtesy of the architects

Photograph by Amit Geron. Image courtesy of Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

 

The undulating ground seemed to pose a special challenge for the regulatory authorities, but the designers decided to insist on remaining faithful, as much as they could, to the original design. Finally everyone was satisfied and the structure was inaugurated.

 

Photography by Amit Geron.  Image courtesy of  Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

Photography by Amit Geron.
Image courtesy of Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

We have here an example of how beauty -  a much feared word in the world of architectural writing - can be embedded in a play space.  It is true that this place is situated within a museum and is not a public park in the same way that a neighborhood park might be, but the construction of this piece possibly heralds a new or renewed age in which we create places of beauty in our ludic environments.

Photograph by Amit Geron. Image courtesy of the architects

Photography by Amit Geron. Image courtesy of Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman architects

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