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The Creative City Of The Architect

Aug 31, 2009


Gili Merin

Tel Aviv has always been at the heart of Yoav Messer’s professional and personal life. An Eighth generation Israeli, he was born and raised in Tel Aviv which he only left briefly during his studies at the department of architecture and city planning at the ‘Technion’ in Haifa. After graduating with honors, he started his own firm which today, almost thirty years later, employs twelve architects and designers. Messer also teaches at the department of architecture at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem and at the College of Management in Rishon LeZion.
In a special interview for Telavivian, Messer speaks about the city’s elegance and its planning and maintenance issues. His studio is portrayed below by Sarale Gur Lavy.
You were born and raised in Tel Aviv. After moving to Haifa, when and why did you return and start your own practice?
After I graduated from the Technion in 1986, I wanted to return to Tel Aviv and open a studio where I could create my own architecture. I had the necessary faith and courage as well as the need to maintain both my professional and personal freedom. Luckily, I managed to unite these aspects here at the studio.
In what ways do they meet?
My practice is located at the center of Tel Aviv, in a double-story listed building from 1937. It has a quiet backyard connecting the two levels – one of which holds the studio, and the other the family home. Seeing as my work has always been part of my family’s life, I chose to keep both together and not form any type of separation. In fact, nothing makes me happier than when my children pop in the office to say hello.
The office itself is a big and bright open space, where most of the team works around a large central table. I firmly believe that this open approach increases creativity by encouraging dialogue. It creates a pleasant sense throughout which in turn contributes to a satisfying outcome. The conference room and my office are both on the gallery floor, which is slightly separated from the central space. The beautiful backyard overlooks the working area. The large wooden table at its center is where we have lunch, celebrate events or have drinks at the end of a long working day. I highly appreciate my team and the hard work they put in, and am very grateful for having this space to spend informal time together.
Tell us about the type of work you produce at the office. What kind of challenges does Tel Aviv present?
I think that the biggest challenge in Tel Aviv is designing a project that is relevant to the city in terms of its historical “baggage” – the mix of its mediterranean character and the modernist values of the “white city.” Our basic planning concept here is what I call “creative city,” which posits the question of how to plan a public or residential building so that it manages to embody that idea. We attempted to do that, I think successfully, in public buildings including the Peres Peace Center, the Etgarim Center, Balfour School, as well as various residential projects.
What is still missing in the city?
Undoubtedly Tel Aviv is missing a large amount of public urban spaces. Although the city is very vital, it suffers from neglect: it’s dirty and the construction quality is often extremely low. It is hard to grasp how a city with such a high cost of living is so lacking in these aspects.
What is your favorite building or architecture style in Tel Aviv?
I am very fond of the “white city” buildings with their freshness and uniqueness that brought a new spirit to the city, especially in comparison to the eclectic style. These buildings astonish me in their elegance. They stood forgotten for many years yet their influence on the urban fabric is profound. Without question, the preservation process underway in recent years (including our work on the Norman Hotel), reignites the city’s original spirit of light, vivacity and innovation.
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