Jerusalem Architecture: The Past 70+ Years
Updated: Nov 20, 2021
I recently decided to devote three articles to the history of architectural activity in Israel’s capital. The first article discussed architecture at the end of the Ottoman Empire, the second focused on the British Mandate period, and this article will focus on architecture since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
During the British Mandate period, starting in the 1930s there was a strong emphasis on Bauhaus-inspired International Style, a form of Modernism which was based on functionality, emphasized by clean lines and no unnecessary decorations. A major reason for this design was based on its low construction cost.
Most recently, Post-Modern architecture has developed as the style of choice in Jerusalem. This trend was a reaction to Modernism, and it has served as a stabilizing connection between the minimalism of Modernism during the British Mandate period and the ornate designs which were in vogue during the Ottoman Empire.
Post-Modern architecture utilizes elements of Functionalism while integrating historical styles such as arches, columns and domes. Examples of Post-Modern Architecture include the David Citadel Hotel, Jerusalem’s Malcha Shopping Mall and its neighboring Technology Park.
The movement away from Functionalism toward Post-Modernism has also expressed itself in the preservation of older buildings and their adaptation to new uses. Many older buildings near the Old City are prime examples of this trend, including the Jerusalem Music Center and the Mishkenot Sha'ananim Guest House in Yemin Moshe, which were originally built in the 1860s as housing for impoverished families.
The following are some unique facilities built in Jerusalem since 1948:
The Yad Vashem Memorial is a 45-acre complex located in western Jerusalem next to Mount Herzl. It contains the largest Holocaust museum in the world, multiple memorial sites, a research institute and archive, library, and an educational center. Yad Vashem, which attracts over a million visitors annually, is the second most visited tourist site in Israel, after the Western Wall.
Yad Vashem’s architecture powerfully sets the tone for its solemn subject matter. The Children’s Memorial, which was created to remember the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust, is particularly awe-inspiring. The memorial is comprised of five memorial candles that are reflected in what appears to be literally millions of tiny lights within the darkness, creating, as Yad Vashem’s website so eloquently states, “the impression of millions of stars shining in the firmament.”
The Supreme Court Building
The Supreme Court Building was opened in 1992 and was soon thereafter dubbed “Israel’s finest public building,” by Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for the New York Times. This is an excellent example of post-modern style that incorporates many historical references to a decidedly modern building. Mr. Goldberger explained that it achieved, “a remarkable and exhilarating balance between the concerns of daily life and the symbolism of the ages."
The Belz World Center
The Belz World Center was completed in 2006 and its design replicates on a larger scale the original Belz synagogue in Poland which was destroyed during the Holocaust. The facility has study halls, wedding halls and other communal facilities, in addition to its extravagant 4-story main sanctuary. The synagogue can seat up to 6,000 people – and they somehow fit in 8,000 during the High Holy Days – making it the largest synagogue in the world. It also boasts the largest aron kodesh in the world, which can accommodate over sixty Torahs. The interior has remarkable acoustics which allow the cantor’s voice to be heard by all worshipers.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home, a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. You may contact him at email@example.com.