A modernist skyscraper was built with no connection to the existing urban context, and plans for a row of similar towers threatened to destroy the character of the historical city center. This so outraged the residents of the area that they managed to bring about a complete ban on skyscraper construction in the historical city center.
The city was Paris, and the year was 1977. (The skyscraper was the Montparnasse Tower, which in 2005 turned out to be loaded with asbestos…) However, a similar process may be underway in Tel Aviv of 2008.
On Wednesday, the Local Planning and Construction Committee (an organ of the Tel Aviv Municipality) decided, unanimously, to freeze a plan for a 30 story residential building at the corner of Nahalat Binyamin and Derech Yaffo Streets.
Above: A rendering by local residents of Neve Tzedek’s future skyline.
In response to persistent and vocal opposition from local residents (joined by residents of the Old North, who are fighting their own battle against a skyscraper planned for the Assuta complex), the Committee decided not to approve additional skyscrapers until a comprehensive plan is drawn up for the area that addresses issues such as transportation, public buildings and air pollution.
The move is a significant change for the city, which has thus far favored promoting very tall buildings without any general planning guidelines or policy.
The area in question is Derech Yaffo (also known as Eilat Street), a small street leading from Allenby Street to Old Jaffa, between the Florentine and Neve Tzedek neighborhoods in the south of the city. Much of the city’s history and architectural patrimony can be found in this area, which consists of mostly low-rise buildings built in the pre-’48 era.
The popularity of these historical neighborhoods led city planners and real estate developers to take a second look at the area several years ago, and plans for buildings of up to 40 stories were drawn up.
The first of these skyscrapers to appear along Derech Yaffo was the Neve Tzedek Tower (also known as Nechushtan tower, after an elevator factory that used to occupy the site). Some 180 meters in height (roughly equal to the height of Montparnasse Tower), the building was built in such a way that its facade faces the ocean, while its back (see photo at right) faces the street.
Last month, Haaretz published an interesting piece on the building, in which the project’s architect was quoted as saying:
The whole of the center of Tel Aviv is off-limits for building because of the UNESCO plan. If someone wants to live in the city he has only the cruddy apartments built in the 1960’s. If towers like the Nechushtan are not built in Neve Tzedek, the neighborhood has no justification to exist – it has to be demolished.
Activist residents of Florentine and Neve Tzedek have been fighting for years against the skyscrapers that threaten to surround their neighborhoods, as well as other massive building and road plans that are currently in the pipeline. The residents have put forth alternative proposals for high-density construction that better integrates into the existing built fabric, but so far, these proposals have fallen on deaf ears.
However, in light of the city’s decision to take a more holistic look at the area, perhaps the time has come for a comprehensive discussion on the subject of skyscrapers in Tel Aviv, as Paris did thirty years ago.