Monday, February 14, 2011

Gerard Heumann articles on architecture and urban planning


Gerard Heumann is the exception to my rule that the local English-language media have little that is intelligent to say about urban planning in Jerusalem. I do not know Mr. Heumann personally, nor am I familiar with his actual work as an architect/town planner. But the articles that he occasionally publishes in the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz are as remarkable for their precise delineation of the issues as for their eloquence.

Of course, these articles (so far as I know) are not the work of a professional journalist on his regular architecture beat. They are op-ed pieces by a non-journalist.

Regular, in-depth architecture criticism would be a welcome addition to the Israeli newspapers that I am most familiar with (the Jerusalem Post and Makor Rishon). These papers have columns devoted to interior design ("Homes" in the Jerusalem Post's Friday magazine section; interviews with women designers in Makor Rishon's "Nashim" supplement). However, the exterior sphere is almost uniformly neglected, and that is unfortunate.

Until these newspapers begin to take architecture and urban planning seriously, I'll content myself with following Gerard Heumann's occasional pieces.

Enjoy these links:

Recent Heumann articles in Haaretz

Global Architecture in Israel (Jerusalem Post, 2 April 2013)
While hiring star-architects is not necessarily harmful, serious problems arise when foreign architects are ignorant of, or oblivious to, the history, the physical environmental context, the contingencies of climate and the special qualities of local light, imposing their personal style – advertisements to themselves – on surroundings of which they have little understanding.

Where Beit Shemesh Went Wrong (Haaretz, 6 April 2012)
Today, the minister of housing - Ariel Attias, whose ministry initiates large new neighborhood plans; the interior minister - Eli Yishai, whose ministry controls all national and district planning and building committees; and the Haredi mayor of Beit Shemesh - Moshe Abutbul, all belong to the Shas party. One needs little political acumen to understand that Shas has Beit Shemesh locked up. They already have their eyes set on the enormous swath of invaluable state-owned land north of the Ha'ela Valley, to the city's south, for the development of tens of thousands of new residential units. If they succeed in this mission, it will be a clear sign for others, including the founding families of the original Beit Shemesh, to simply pick up and move elsewhere. Such a scenario should be prevented at all costs.

A Home-Grown Delicate Balance (Haaretz, 24 February 2012)
The low-rise, high-density housing alternative can offer real hope for restoring the delicate balance between tradition and modernity so very desperately needed in Israel today. Strangely, in spite of its being superbly appropriate to our climate and social context, almost no courtyard housing on an urban scale has been built in Israel for many years. Developers need to be convinced that this building typology can be built economically and will be well-accepted by the public, and easy to market. For courtyard housing to flourish here, the political, social and economic climate, must of course, be supportive.

Waiting in Vain (Haaretz, 3 February 2012)
Clearly, the most central and primary goal of public transportation, that of serving the public, is not being met. People are right in demanding to reach their destinations in the most direct way possible. While obviously the option of changing the tramway's route won't be considered, revising bus lines, while ensuring the continuity of the system and relocating bus stations so as to ease the necessary additional transfers - can and must happen. Bus frequencies must be increased, and bus and tram schedules coordinated. The traveling public of Jerusalem is on the platform - waiting anxiously for these revisions.

Toward Kinder, Gentler Housing (Haaretz)(updated September 2011)
By providing a full range of housing types and workplaces within close proximity to each other, age and class distinctions are reduced and the bonds of authentic communities formed. A variety of street types would serve pedestrians, not just vehicles. A community spirit is born in well-defined squares and parks. Well-placed civic buildings can serve as symbols of community identity.

Buses Trump Trams Any Day (Haaretz)(updated July 2011)The absurdity is apparent. Jerusalem's entire transport system has forcibly been reconstructed to support a single line for a luxurious and fashionable but entirely inappropriate transport technology, while commuters' real needs and concerns have been totally ignored. After years of planning and a full decade of construction, it's mainly tourists and those who don't own cars - captives of the new system - who will be served by the light-rail line.

Saving Safra Square (Haaretz)(updated May 2011)Public places need meaning beyond their mere existence. Plazas are successful when life goes on around them as well as within, when they invite participation and are well-proportioned, when they offer a variety of uses and activities. A place where people meet informally, talk, stroll, make music together.
Planning for the Haredi Community (Jerusalem Post) (updated March 2011)The low-rise, high-density alternative, sometimes referred to as courtyard housing, oriented toward families with children – never properly tested here – appears to be the most appropriate.
Crime Deterrence through Urban Design (Jerusalem Post)
"Deterring crime without having to wall off projects can be achieved by a variety of means. Clearly articulating the transition points between public, semipublic and private areas is essential. In place of anonymity, project a strong identity. Architects can position dwelling units, openings and entries, and set paths of movement and areas of activity – signs of life – so as to provide inhabitants with continuous natural surveillance of bordering streets and project grounds. The street comes under surveillance from the building entries and lobbies. "
Lessons from Holyland (Haaretz)
“The Holyland reminds us that our natural and built environment is deteriorating rapidly and that the public must develop a new and deeper understanding of urban planning. What, for example, constitutes good or bad design? How is it possible for construction to satisfy the needs of the collective as well as the individual? How can community values be translated into architecture, urban design and planning? How does design affect interpersonal and social relations? To be able to answer these questions, along with many others, education, of course, is the key.”
Israeli Architecture: an Ethical Crisis (Jerusalem Post)
“A substantial part of the environment is shaped by people who have little or no visual training and who are simply unaware of the aesthetic and social consequences of their decisions – including mayors, lawyers, real-estate men and developers, businessmen and engineers. The public at large has little understanding of design, not to mention many people who do not differentiate between an architect and a contractor.”
The Growing Gap between Architecture and Urban Planning (Jerusalem Post)
“Every architectural concept has an equivalent urbanistic one. Spaces exterior with respect to buildings are interior with respect to the city. The real life of any city takes place on the ground plane, at the level of the street, the plaza and the park.”
Who Designs Jerusalem? (Jerusalem Post)
“At Malha, a shopping center, sports stadium, technology park and residential neighborhood were designed as if each existed on separate planets. Not a single building in the technology park bounds adjacent roads, not even opposite the shopping center, where a golden opportunity existed for the design of valuable commercial space at ground level.”
Billion Dollar Baby (Jerusalem Post)
“The long-awaited inauguration of the Jerusalem Light Rail line, the first of its type in the country, is scheduled, barring further delays, for April. Already five years behind schedule due to bureaucratic bungling, a total lack of experience with this mode of transportation and horrendous project management, construction has wreaked havoc in the life of the city over most of the last decade.”

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