Israel Pulse

More skyscrapers pop up along Israeli skyline

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Résumé
Israeli urban designers differ on whether condominium towers are the solution for land shortage or they create new problems, such as disconnect with street life.

Architects Guy Miloslavsky and Amnon Swartz have been laboring over the past year on plans for the tallest building in Israel. The 100-floor multifunctional Bein Arim Tower would be located on the adjacent borders of the Tel Aviv-Givatayim-Ramat Gan cities, in the company of many other — though somewhat shorter — buildings. In the past decade this entire area in central Israel has become a real skyscraper hub. More generally, close to 800 buildings across Israel contain 20 floors or more.

In the 1960s and 1970s, everyone in Tel Aviv knew exactly where the Shalom Meir Tower was located. It was the only skyscraper in town, or even in Israel. The 31-floor building served as an urban monument in the cognitive map of the city’s residents. Whatever laid south of the tower was considered Tel Aviv outskirts; whatever laid north of it was already uptown. In stark contrast to the Shalom Meir Tower, Bauhaus-style architectural gems dominated Tel Aviv’s older neighborhoods. These were four- or five-story buildings characterized by elegant horizontal lines, with narrow balconies running along each floor. Tel Aviv’s skyline was low and continuous, except the Shalom Meir Tower.

Nowadays as well, most office and commercial tall buildings are located at the Tel Aviv and its environs’ central business districts. Yet another phenomenon is gaining momentum — that of condominium towers. The keyword is vertical, instead of horizontal. What started as tall residential buildings for the rich has recently become also a middle-class fashion.

In 2002, the Tel Aviv planning committee approved the north Tel Aviv Park Tzameret project, set to contain 12 luxurious tall apartment buildings between 29 and 40 floors, surrounded by green space. The towers were designed to contain some 1,500 apartments in all sizes from studio to 360-square meter (3,875-square feet) flats, as well as commerce and public services. The city was confronted by much criticism, over the construction of an all-luxurious neighborhood, practically inaccessible to the other city residents and in urban disconnect with other parts of Tel Aviv.

Other residential towers followed in Tel Aviv and also in coastline Netanya and Haifa in the north, Ashdod and Bat Yam in the center-south. Most of these later projects offer expensive apartments, though they are less pricey than those in Tel Aviv.

Miloslavsky told Al-Monitor that his office is currently planning several projects of towers, both offices and residential. "The 100-floor inert-cities tower is indeed exceptional in its measures. For different zoning reasons, this tower will house offices, commerce, departments of the Tel Aviv municipality and other public services, but not apartments. In fact, our office is now designing about 20 multifunctional projects of buildings between 30 and 60 floors, not just in the Tel Aviv area but also in the periphery. For instance, we are planning a 30-floor building in Acre [northern Israel]."

According to Miloslavsky, "Israel suffers from land shortage. That’s a fact we must deal with — not only in the center of Israel but also in the north and in the south. Therefore, we must build higher. Israelis would have to abandon their dream of a house with a garden, which is no longer feasible. Any other approach borders on irresponsibility toward future generations. But we should be smart about that, and be careful to preserve the connections between the buildings and the street — by finding nonconventional solutions."

Yet for many urban designers and specialists, tower buildings are not necessarily the best solution for land scarcity. On the contrary, they could create both urban, environmental and social problems. Professor Rachelle Alterman of the Technion’s Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Research, an expert on comparative planning and law, warns that condominium towers are a misfit for a country like Israel. Tall residential buildings of 30 and 40 floors are actually high-tech machines, she told Al-Monitor. They contain complex mechanisms for air conditioning, elevators, energy, ventilation and the maintenance costs of these machines are very expensive, requiring significant maintenance funds.

"Tower condominiums are actually very expensive buildings. Contrary to eight- or 10-floor buildings, the towers are not flexible. You cannot add or reduce a floor and the buildings cannot be regenerated; they need periodic upkeeping. Maintenance is a hidden cost, while Israelis are used to paying for what they see: trimming the garden or tarring the roof," Alterman said. She added that most Israelis take large mortgages for buying homes, and so convincing them to allocate extra sums for a maintenance fund would not be evident. This is especially true since most Israeli families move apartments several times in their lives.

"Condominium towers seem to be good use of land, offering high density of apartments. But in reality, these are vertical streets. Israel has one of the highest birth rates of the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] members, and so you have families with 3.1 children on average. This means a multitude of public services for which the developers pay only part. Each such tower would require in itself school classes, kindergartens, medical services, etc."

Alterman warned that authorities ignore this reality, and that nobody has actually checked whether very tall buildings offer better solutions than other forms of construction. "Apart from the maintenance issue, towers are the absolute opposite of street life, alienating people from urban life," she said. "These towers are in fact segregated communities, even without being officially gated."

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Found in: Infrastructure

Rina Bassist, an Israeli journalist, works on Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse editorial team. She has been serving for many years as an international correspondent for the Israel Broadcasting Authority, stationed in Paris, Brussels, New Orleans and Pretoria. She also contributes to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Jerusalem Post and Ynet. Prior to her journalistic career, she served as deputy ambassador in Bogotá.

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