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.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 3)

Another Segal project, for an IDF Memorial Museum on Mount Eitan, Jerusalem, placed second in a 1996 competition, so it was not built. But this plan, too, was conceived as grippingly close to nature, emerging from the mountain as a part of the landscape. Was the building’s closeness to the land meant to evoke a sense of security? “Well, I am not sure security is the right term to use,” said Segal. “But in Israel around the Jerusalem hills the IDF Museum is a memorial, so we wanted to avoid the appearance of a building that tries to conquer the hill, and so we chose not to build on the top of the hill, but rather within the hill.

“It was a kind of critique. The IDF is a defense force, and so its memorial would not be about conquering. It’s much humbler, in a way, to create a different sympathy for the army, just as the design for the Palmach Museum was meant to create a different interpretation of what the Palmach was about. These projects are very charged with meaning.”

For Segal, meaning in architecture has been illuminated by the exemplary precedent of his colleague Hecker, an Israeli born in Poland in 1931. Hecker’s mastery of asymmetric geometric forms has won him plaudits. Another much admired predecessor is the Czech-born Alfred Neumann (1900–68), who worked with Hecker to introduce polyhedral geometries to buildings in Israel when plainer, boxlike designs were in fashion.

Upstairs, Downstairs: Israel’s Ashdod Museum opened in 2003.
Courtesy Rafi Segal
Upstairs, Downstairs: Israel’s Ashdod Museum opened in 2003.

Segal wrote a doctoral thesis at Princeton about Neumann’s innovative achievements. This legacy of modern architecture will be more accessible to Segal when he spends more time in Israel for planning and constructing his library. Asked about his favorite neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Segal replied: “Most of Tel Aviv’s central section feels like one neighborhood. Tel Aviv is more one neighborhood than a big city. It has a human scale, with almost every street lined with trees and very welcoming to the pedestrian. Jerusalem is heavier, more monumental, with its stone and hills and history. Tel Aviv’s flatness allows a different kind of interaction between people. It has no monuments; it’s a very secular city in many ways.”

Which of the two cities has the uglier architecture?

“Jerusalem is a very powerful city, and although a lot of its architecture is awful, it still conveys the sense of a city and a strong place and a strong presence and beauty, of course,” Segal said. “It’s very different from Tel Aviv, which is essentially an ugly city. I was born in Tel Aviv, and I consider it home, and it has its charm and a very humane scale which allows people to interact in a way that is very Mediterranean and promising and optimistic. It’s the perfect city for the everyday, and it’s a walking city, but it can do much better [architecturally].”

Will Haifa’s Munio Gitai Weinraub Museum of Architecture, opened earlier in October by film director Amos Gitai in honor of his Bauhaus-inspired father, and the Tel Aviv Museum’s Archive of Israeli Architecture Gallery, scheduled to open next year, help Israel to raise architectural awareness? “Absolutely,” Segal said. “I think they are both fortunate and extremely necessary, especially at a time when the built environment is densifying and questions of development and preservation are more challenging than ever. The biggest challenge in Israel on a cultural level with relation to architecture is how to bring architecture into the cultural discourse. To enhance the discourse of architecture in order to turn architecture into a much more significant cultural factor.”

Benjamin Ivry is a frequent contributor to the Forward.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.