Architect Rafi Segal's Understated Approach

Wins Competition To Design National Library of Israel

Greece is the Word: Segal designed the Korthi houses in Andros, Greece.
Courtesy Rafi Segal
Greece is the Word: Segal designed the Korthi houses in Andros, Greece.

By Benjamin Ivry

Published October 27, 2012, issue of November 09, 2012.
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In the coming days, after contracts have been duly signed, architect Rafi Segal will be formally declared the winner of an international competition to design a new National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, near the Knesset and the Israel Museum. Segal, who was born in Tel Aviv in 1967, is contractually unable to speak in detail about the new project. Nevertheless, he spoke to the Forward from his home in Princeton, N.J., and discussed how he defines his role as architect and how he sees the future of building in Israel.

Segal is a bespectacled intellectual with an Ivy League air — which is only natural, since his recent jobs have included teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Luis Fernández-Galiano, a noted Spanish architect and the competition jury chair, praised Segal’s project for creating a “positive dialogue with the Knesset, the Israel Museum and other public buildings in the vicinity. We found it to be modest, yet original and unique.” Is modesty seen as a virtue in modern architecture? What about the egotist Frank Lloyd Wright or the splashy Frank Gehry?

‘In our age,” said Segal, “modesty in architecture specifically can be seen as a virtue, if one can make a statement and the work is interesting enough. Many of Wright’s buildings were modest, although he wasn’t as a person. A modest building is one which sits well in its context, a building that appreciates where it is and doesn’t want to overpower its setting. Some of Frank Gehry’s work does this, as well. In our time, when a lot of the work we see is based on a very bold image or expression in order to get attention as quickly as possible with the least possible effort, then modesty in architecture becomes even more valuable and appreciated.”


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