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Architecture and Architects

Archaeology has provided information about "Israelite" architectural practices from the 10th to 6th centuries B.C.E., and to "Jewish" styles of building and decoration from the late Hellenistic period (1st century B.C.E.) and later.

In Antiquity

The planning of isolated dwellings may be traced back to late prehistoric times. Natural geographical and topographical conditions presented early builders with a choice of materials: clay for bricks, stone for walls and wood for ceilings. Structures – circular, curvilinear and rectangular in plan – may be traced back to the Natufian and Pre-Pottery Neolithic periods. Wooden posts supported thatched ceilings. In environments lacking in trees, ceilings were constructed of corbelled stone. Signs of village/town planning with complex architecture, street networks, drainage and water-collecting systems, were already evident within some Neolithic settlements, notably at PPNA Jericho and at PNA Sha'ar Hagolan. Sophisticated architectural planning, however, did not precede the Early Bronze Age. Complex structures used as dwellings (of broadroom or longroom design), palaces, administrative buildings, and temples are known from this period. Although dressed stones appear for the first time as supports for wooden posts in the EB Age temples at Megiddo, most of the walls of this period were built of fieldstones or mudbrick covered with clay plaster and lime. Settlements were surrounded by fortifications, with towers and chambered gates at intervals, and were built on rubble foundations along a predetermined topographical course.

The fortification systems of the Middle Bronze Age were extremely complex engineering feats and were apparently built as a response to the development of sophisticated military sapping equipment. The arch was known in monumental construction from as early as the Middle Bronze Age. At Tel Dan a city gate was unearthed with its outer portal preserved as a true arch with mud-brick voussoirs. Dressed orthostats are known from a number of city gates dating from the Middle Bronze Age, for example at Gezer and Shechem, and further afield at MB sites in Lebanon and Syria.

The efficient architectural planning of Iron Age II cities and towns has become evident as a result of the extensive excavation of a number of Israelite sites, for example at Tell Beit Mirsim, Tell el-Nasbeh and Tell el-Farah (north). Public buildings, dwellings of various sizes and plans, water systems and other underground features are characteristic of such sites. Nothing has survived of the two main buildings constructed by Solomon in Jerusalem – the Temple and the "House of the Forest of Lebanon," both of which were described in the Book of Kings. The description of these buildings suggests that they were large and had walls built of ashlars and with cedar ceiling beams requiring many internal columns for support. The Temple is believed to have been a tripartite structure built on a longitudinal axis and imported cedar beams were utilized; the Bible relates how Hiram, king of Tyre, lent Solomon his builders. The four-room or three-room building units were typical of the dwellings of this period. Dressed stones comprising smoothed or marginal-drafted ashlars are known from the Iron Age II, mainly from the 10th century B.C.E., sometimes laid in alternate courses of headers and stretchers to ensure stability. Wooden beams were sometimes added into the walls horizontally between the courses of stones, to provide elasticity and to minimize damage from earthquakes. Stones were dressed with chisels. The use of the dentate chisel edge is known only from the Persian/Hellenistic period onwards. Windows were occasionally bordered with an indented balustrade (e.g., Ramat Rahel) and the Proto-Aeolic capital – decorated with a triangle flanked by spiraling volutes – was used in doorjambs of important buildings (e.g., Jerusalem, Samaria, Megiddo). Most private houses, however, continued to be built of rubble walls with smoothed mud walls, coated with lime plaster. Complex mud-brick construction was discovered during excavations of Persian-period structures at Tell Jemmeh, with pitched barrel-vaulting in residences and storerooms.

From the Hellenistic period and through the Roman period, architectural planning became much more expansive within cities, while building projects within the rural countryside remained modest and followed on techniques of construction used in previous periods. Various types of mortar and brick construction techniques were introduced into the region in the Roman period. Imported materials, such as marble, were utilized in the construction of palaces and large buildings, especially from the time of Herod the Great in the late 1st century B.C.E. The engineering achievements of the Romans in regard to the construction of roads, bridges and aqueducts, also had its effect on the region. New leisure projects – baths, theaters, amphitheaters – were constructed.

It is hard to define Jewish architecture prior to the Roman period, but from the late 1st century B.C.E. onwards one may point out the existence of tomb architecture with internal decorations (e.g., the tombs at Akeldama in Jerusalem), free-standing tomb monuments (e.g., the Tombs of Absalom and Zachariah in the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem), and public buildings identified as synagogues (e.g., Masada, Herodium, Gamla, Jericho, and Modi'in), which were undoubtedly created by Jewish artisans and architects. The Temple and the esplanade on which it was built was one of the architectural accomplishments from the time of Herod the Great (37–4 B.C.E.). Massive fortifications are known from this period as well. During the Late Roman and Byzantine periods, Jewish architecture continued to be exemplified by various forms of synagogues (e.g., Chorazin, Capernaum, Beth Alpha, etc.) and tombs (e.g., Beth Shearim).

[Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]

Modern Period

In modern times there is an abundance of Jewish architects but – except perhaps to a certain extent in Israel – no Jewish architecture to speak of. The men who designed the synagogues for European communities may well have been engaged by their coreligionists for domestic architecture as well. The names of medieval Jewish magnates are frequently associated with stone dwelling-houses, some of which still stand. There is indeed reason to believe that in England – perhaps for reasons of security – it was the Jews who pioneered domestic stone building, a fashion they introduced from the Continent. Notwithstanding such isolated instances, however, it is clear that Jews played little or no part in general architecture before the age of Emancipation. It was only in the 19th century that Jewish architects began to emerge in general practice and to be given civic, monumental, or even ecclesiastical commissions in many countries of Europe without any apparent discrimination. Curiously enough, two of the first Jewish architects to have attained some distinction in the field were both wealthy English Sephardim: the convert to Christianity, George *Basevi , and David *Mocatta . The latter's designs for a series of railway stations in the 1830s and 1840s had a lasting influence. The same tradition of the "gentleman architect" was represented somewhat later by the German Georg Itzig, who designed the princely Palazzo Revoltella in Trieste, and in the same Italian Renaissance style, the Deutsche Reichsbank in Berlin (1879). Around the turn of the century many other Reichsbank branches, designed with the floridity characteristic of German architecture of this period, were built by E. Jacobsthal (1839–1902). In Austria a pioneer in theater architecture was Oscar *Strnad , and in Germany Oskar *Kaufmann worked in the same field, most notably in his Stadttheater in Bremerhaven (1909) and his Komoedie Theater in Berlin (1924). As in other spheres of modern culture, Jews were among the first to break away from conventional forms in architecture. In Germany a pioneer was Alfred Messel, whose Wertheim Department Store in Berlin (1897), a remarkable combination of stone, steel, and glass, is generally considered one of the important influences on modern architecture, notwithstanding its neo-Gothic romanticism. Another modern master was Eric *Mendelsohn , whose expressionistic buildings, such as his Einstein Tower in Potsdam (1919–20), have a highly sculptural appearance. At the turn of the century Budapest was a city vibrating with life. In the feverish building boom of the era, Jewish architects played a considerable role. A new style, Secession (Art Nouveau, Jugendstil), came to the fore, which in Hungary merged folkloristic, and even Oriental motifs, with historicizing styles. In the center of the new architecture stood the non-Jewish architect Ödön Lechner, and many of his helpers and coworkers were Jews or of Jewish descent. His works, and those of other architects of the period were not only neglected, but even frowned upon in later decades only to be restored in the 1970s and 1980s. At present they are highly valued sites of the Hungarian capital. Elsewhere in Europe, among the most influential of modern French architects was Alexandre Persitz (1910– ). He was editor of the review Architecture d'aujourd'hui and a leading figure in the reconstruction of the city of Le Havre after World War II, as well as the architect of a number of synagogues. Other influential contemporary French architects include Emmanuel Pontrémoli, who taught at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, Georges Goldberg, Georges Gumpel, and Claude *Meyer-Lévy . In Italy mention should be made of Manfredo d'Urbino and Bruno Zevi, who in addition to being a practicing architect and a writer on the subject was secretary general of the Italian Institute of Town Planning; Julien Flegenheimer (1880–1938), the brother of the author Edmund *Fleg , was architect of the Palace of the League of Nations in Geneva. One of the most interesting and most successful workers' housing projects, the Spaarndammerplantsoen in Amsterdam, was designed by the Dutchman Michel de *Klerk . Indeed, it is perhaps symptomatic of the intense Jewish interest in social welfare and social activism that Jewish architects have tended to be associated with such public developments in disproportionate numbers. One of the most famous of these is the Karl Marx Hof in Vienna, built in 1930 by the partnership of Frank and Wlach. In Russia, particularly since the Bolshevik Revolution, a number of Jewish architects have had prominent public careers. One of the first of these, J.C. Gewuertz, was a leader of the avant-garde even in prerevolutionary times. In the 1920s he won great esteem and became dean of the school of architecture of the Academy. The architect A.I. Gegello (1891–1965) was well known for his House of Culture in Leningrad, reputed to have the best acoustics of any theater in Russia; his Botkin Memorial Hospital for Infectious Diseases is a striking protest against the over-centralization and dehumanization of modern medicine. N.A. Trotski's glass factory "Belyi Bychek," designed in the 1920s, is a bold and masterly integration of diverse elements. His project for the Palace of the Soviets in Leningrad in 1937, however, exhibits a lifeless neoclassicism which may perhaps be attributed to circumstances. A country in the New World in which Jews have been particularly active in the field of architecture is Brazil. A forerunner of modern architecture in Brazil was Russian-born Gregori Warchavchik (1896–1972), who built the first modern house in the country in São Paulo in 1927 and supervised the Brazilian architecture exhibit in the Exhibition of the Modern House which he organized in 1930. Rino Levi (1901–1965) was among the most prolific of Brazilian architects, working in American skyscraper style. In this he was rivaled by Henrique Mindlin (1911–1971), author of Modern Architecture in Brazil (1956), whose work has helped to change the skyline of Rio de Janeiro. One of the collaborators in the plans for the new Brazilian capital, Brasilia, as well as a designer of the country's most modern synagogues, was Elias Kaufman (1928– ). The versatile Roberto Burle Marx used the luxuriant Brazilian landscape as an integral part of his architecture. The record of distinguished Jewish architects in the United States is long and impressive. The founder of the tradition was German-born Leopold *Eidlitz , an important figure in the Gothic movement, who began his career in America shortly after the middle of the 19th century. He built, besides a number of churches – his Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis has been called "the most churchly church in America" – the former Temple Emanu-El, one of the most notable buildings in old New York. Dankmar *Adler , in conjunction with the non-Jew Louis Sullivan, was largely responsible for the evolution of the American skyscraper. Albert *Kahn , creator of the Ford automobile works outside Detroit, has been described as the most influential industrial architect of modern times. Other important Jewish names in 20th-century American architecture are Louis I. *Kahn , who has been called a major form maker; Max *Abramovitz , designer of the Philharmonic Hall in New York; Victor Gruen (d. 1980), who may be said to have invented the suburban shopping center; Albert Mayer (d. 1981) and Percival *Goodman , both well known as city planners as well as architects; Isadore Rosenfield, a leader in functional hospital design; and Gordon *Bunshaft . Ely Jacques *Kahn , Richard J. *Neutra , Paul Friedberg, Lawrence Halprin, Bertrand Goldberg, Rudolph Schindler, Arnold W. *Brunner , Peter D. *Eisenman , Frank O. *Gehry , Robert A.M. *Stern , Daniel *Liebeskind , Stanley *Tigerman , Richard *Meier , and James *Polshek .

In Modern Ereẓ Israel

The architecture in Jewish towns and settlements in modern Ereẓ Israel was conditioned, on the whole, more by the urgent housing requirements of the various aliyyot than by any other consideration. The aesthetic aspect mostly reflected the trends prevalent in the architects' countries of origin.

During the Ottoman period two broad categories of buildings were built in the country: Arab village buildings, constructed on the traditional pattern, without architects, using building materials found nearby and in distinctive harmony with the terrain; and town architecture, which was typically Mediterranean, based on southern Italian mixed with traditional Arab styles. In addition, there were buildings erected by the Turkish government, which employed German architects. These were of a high standard, in a pleasant, restrained style. The buildings erected by the Jewish Colonization Association, in a French style, were attractive and less pretentious.

Large-scale Jewish immigration after World War I brought in its wake an acute housing shortage, and there was a rush of building unprecedented in Oriental countries. The building boom provided full employment for the architects and engineers then in the country, but brought about the entry of a number of self-taught technicians into the building field. Many of the buildings of the period were badly designed. During the same period, but on an entirely different level, there was an attempt by creative architects to achieve a modern Oriental style.

The process of introducing a style and working toward its formation was slow and lasted many years. The experiments begun by Alexander *Baerwald and his pupils even before World War I (notably the buildings of the Reali School and the Technion in Haifa, 1912) were not continued. The work of Ze'ev Berlin in Tel Aviv is also noteworthy, but no one continued his work. British government architects also made attempts to invent an original colonial style, most notable being the European-influenced Clifford Holiday, and A. St. B. Harrison, the romanticist, whose small police stations have remained attractive throughout the years. Lastly, there were the architects of Jewish institutions: F. Kornberg, who designed the university campus on Mount Scopus; Eric Mendelsohn, who designed the Hadassah Hospital on the same hill; Leopold *Krakauer and Richard *Kaufmann who both made a particularly valuable contribution to Israel architecture; and Yoḥanan *Ratner , who designed the Jewish agency building in Jerusalem and who dedicated himself to training architects at the *Technion .

During the 1930s Western European architects became prominent in Palestine. They had studied, and in some cases worked, with such great teachers as Gropius and Le Corbusier. Buildings were erected whose architectural style is unquestionably balanced. These include urban workers' housing projects by Aryeh *Sharon and J. Neufeld, and the buildings by Z. *Rechter , Sh. Misteczkin, D. Karmi, and G. Shani. On the other hand, in contrast to the "Orientalists," there were European architects who brought with them European concepts of architecture and made no attempt to adapt them to local topography or climate or to translate them into local terms.

The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 led to mass immigration and the need for mass housing. In the early 1950s thousands were living in tin huts, wooden prefabs, and tents. Permanent accommodation had to be built quickly and cheaply. Thus the famous "shikkun" – quickly constructed housing project – became a feature of many parts of the country. Quantity was the criterion, and the qualitative side was neglected, in regard to the building, the materials, and the efficiency of execution, as well as the architectural and aesthetic aspects. Architectural styles in Israel include the Le Corbusier style, the Brazilian and the Japanese, brutalism, and plasticism. There are also attempts to adapt foreign ideas to specific conditions in Israel, particularly in terms of protection against the sun, and to draw inspiration from ancient Oriental architecture. Here and there one can find regional motifs, such as the use of a vaulted concrete shell, or the mixture of concrete and stone.

Heading the list of noteworthy buildings in Israel are the buildings of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Tel Aviv University, and the new Technion campus in Haifa, as well as the Haifa University (architect: Oscar Niemeyer). The Weizmann Institute at Reḥovot has some good teaching and research buildings; the Hebrew Union College building in Jerusalem (architect: Heinz *Rau ) is another excellent structure. Important halls that have been built in the major cities include the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv (architects: Rechter-Karmi-Rechter), Binyanei ha-Ummah in Jerusalem (architect: Ze'ev Rechter), and the Haifa Theater (architect: Shelomo Gilead. In Jerusalem the Israel Museum complex is outstanding (architects: Mansfeld-Gad), as is the Knesset building (architects: Y. Klarwein and D. Karmi) and the new Supreme Court building (architects: R. Carmi and A. Carmi Melamed). Housing architecture has also improved considerably; well-built projects are to be found, notably, in the Ramat Aviv district in north Tel Aviv (architect-planners: J. Perlstein-R. Banat).


G.R.H. Wright, Ancient Building in South Syria and Palestine, 2 vols. (1985); R. Hachlili, Ancient Jewish Art and Archaeology in the Land of Israel (1988); A. Kempinski and R. Reich (eds.), The Architecture of Ancient Israel: From the Prehistoric to Persian Periods (1992); H. Darin, Public Housing in Israel (1959); Contemporary Architecture of the World, 1961 (1961), 34–36; Ministry of Housing, Shikkun u-Veniyyah… (1962); A. Sharon, Tikhnun Fizi be-Yisrael (1951); B. Tammuz (ed.), Ommanut Yisrael (1963), 213–46 pl. 153–225; EIV; A. Reifenberg, Architektur und Kuntsgewerbe im alten Israel (1925); Albright, Arch; M. Avi-Yonah and S. Yeivin, Kadmoniyyot Arẓenu (1955); M. Avi-Yonah (ed.), Sefer Yerushalayim (1956), 176–90, 312–418; Cohen, in: Roth, Art, 121–54; Goodman, ibid., 719–56; Jamilly, in: JHSET, 18 (1958), 127–41; Mayer, Art, index.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.