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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Segal carries this unassertively self-abnegating ethic so far that he claims it was not even his own idea as a boy to become an architect. Instead he credits his father, a lawyer, with coming up with the notion: “After I started studying architecture, then I realized I had it in me all that time, but it wasn’t something I arrived at by myself. Afterwards, looking back, there was something there, coming up with creative arrangement solutions, even if it was only furniture around the house, and from an early age drawing in three dimensions.”

On Segal’s professional website, he describes how he applied such solutions to groundbreaking earlier projects, including the Palmach History Museum (Tel Aviv, 1992–1999), which was co-designed with Zvi Hecker and was “not a building, in the conventional sense.”

According to Segal, his tribute to the elite fighting force of the Haganah, the underground army of the Yishuv, or Jewish community, during the British Mandate period, is “rather a sequence of retaining walls, wrapped around a central courtyard and its existing eucalyptus and pine trees.” How did he manage to co-design a museum that is not a building? “It is a building, of course; every building is a building,” Segal said. “The intention in that statement is that it does not try to appear as a conventional museum, a building that stands alone on its site, and instead appears as a series of walls and terraces, a totally different reading than a building which sits on its site. It relates much more to the existing vegetation, the trees, with open space as the heart of the building.”

To preserve its natural setting, much of the Palmach History Museum was designed underground. Does that placement also contain a metaphor for an underground army? “We really didn’t think about that when we designed the building, but it’s interesting that you mention it,” Segal said. “We were thinking practically, since the exhibit doesn’t need natural light, and to preserve as much space as possible above ground, we put most of the building underground, but it’s certainly interesting when most of a building dedicated to an underground organization is itself underground.”


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