If You Build It

“I first went to Israel in 1959 and I have very fond memories of it,” Richard Meier tells me from his office in New York City. “I never thought I’d actually have the opportunity to work there.”

Thanks to the international development and real estate firm Berggruen Holdings, Meier got his opportunity as Tel Aviv becomes home to the greatly anticipated “Meier on Rothschild” in 2012.

Once the project was conceived in 2006, finding an architect to realize Berggruen’s vision—erecting the preeminent residential building in Israel—was crucial. “An international architect like Daniel Libeskind has built here, so Richard Meier was an obvious choice,” says Yigal Zemah, the Managing Director of Beggruen in Israel. Richard Meier would subsequently give his name to the project, a powerful gesture that signals a new era of globalism and eclecticism in the recently inward-looking country.

Although best known for institutional projects like the fêted Getty Center in Los Angeles, Meier is widely celebrated for his residential projects as well, boasting private residences and apartment buildings all over the world. In New York, for example, Meier’s Perry and Charles Street Apartment Towers, some of the first of the new constructions along the Hudson River, have set a standard for high-class urban living that includes amenities like a doorman, gym, spa, roofdeck, a top-notch restaurant and spectacular panoramic views. “We’re trying to bring U.S. standards to Israel,” says Zemah. “The Meier on Rothschild will have every amenity imaginable.”

The 42-story tower will be positioned on an enviable site at the intersection of Rothschild Boulevard and Allenby Street. Rothschild, the popular commercial and residential thoroughfare and the heart of the city, boasts a rich history of urban development and architectural innovations. The architecture of the surrounding neighborhood is famously eclectic, drawing influence from Levantine, European and Ottoman sources. Sprinkled among these assorted structures is one of the greatest and best-preserved legacies of the modern architectural movement, the White City, an array of over 4,000 Bauhaus buildings (a style of German modernist architecture from the 1930s defined by boxy, white structures) and the largest concentration of this style in the world. (So valued is the White City to the architectural community at large that the area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.)

Meier, whose work is famous for employing a modernist architectural language, is quick to debunk the notion that the tower will reference the Bauhaus heritage of the neighborhood. Unlike the tall, willowy and thematically-transparent tower, the Bauhaus structures are “squat and totally different.”

The tower’s floor-to-ceiling windows will offer panoramic views of the Judean Hills to the East and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, while a concrete structure will support a double-screen façade, a device that will function as a shade against the hot Israeli sun. Amenities will include a pool, spa and retail space along with a landscaped plaza at the entrance. The interiors will be all white but, Meier notes, residents will have full creative license in their respective “shells.”

What will be the cultural meaning of the Meier on Rothschild?

The idea of the Meier Tower as a symbol of untamed economic prosperity is probably a bit far-fetched and Meier himself dismisses the notion that it might bring about a building and economic boom similar in spirit to the boisterous ones taking place in areas like Dubai and Abu-Dhabi. “I don’t think it will,” says Meier. “Dubai and Abu-Dhabi are on an entirely different plane.” More likely, the Tower is a harbinger of the country opening itself up and embracing international modes of thinking.

“I hope this raises the quality of architecture in Israel,” says Meier. “I would be very proud.”

What do you think?

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One Response

  1. bbayer

    I am rather disappointed that “amenities like a doorman, gym, spa, roofdeck, a top-notch restaurant and spectacular panoramic views.” are considered to set a new “standard for high-class urban living” in Tel Aviv or New York. I mean, what’s new in that?

    Similarly, whatever the term “White City” meant to the European Architects of the 30’s, it had to be with knowledge of “the” White City, as constructed for Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and Fair, more than a generation earlier.

    Perhaps, rather than taking the radical idea of a spa and retail space from New York or white paint from the Bauhaus, Meier could have considered the color green with L.E.E.D. certification for a building that is simultaneously energy efficient and environmentally responsible, as well as luxurious.


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