Showcasing Israeli art

08 Dec 2011

Preston Scott Cohen’s modern museum revamp gives boost to Tel Aviv art scene

Tel Aviv's recently expanded modern art museum, with its dazzling new building no less an attraction than the art showcased inside, has given a home to hundreds of displaced Israeli works and helped boost the city's cultural scene.

Located in the centre of the city's cultural complex, the program for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art Amir Building posed an extraordinary architectural challenge: to resolve the tension between the tight, idiosyncratic triangular site and the museum's need for a series of large, neutral rectangular galleries. The solution: subtly twisting geometric surfaces (hyperbolic parabolas) that connect the disparate angles between the galleries and the context, while refracting natural light into the deepest recesses of the half buried building.

The reason for the four-year, $50 million building project was to provide a space for the collection of Israeli art that was growing in the museum's storage rooms. Many of the newly displayed pieces include elements of Israeli society, from military conscription to the agricultural communes known as kibbutzim. Alongside these nationally inspired contributions, works by renowned German artist Anselm Kieffer – which were inspired by Jewish faith and mysticism – make up a special exhibit for the new wing's opening. The new wing, designed by Massachusetts architect Preston Scott Cohen, has doubled the size of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art by 19,000 sq. m. (200,000 sq. ft.) and lured a growing number of art fans through its new, triangular concrete and glass complex since its November 3 unveiling.

Cohen’s building represents an unusual synthesis of two opposing paradigms for the contemporary museum: the museum of neutral white boxes and the museum of architectural spectacle. Individual, rectangular galleries are organized around the "Lightfall", an eighty-seven foot tall spiraling atrium. The building is composed according to multiple axes that deviate significantly from floor to floor. In essence, it is a series of independent plans and steel structural systems stacked one atop the other, connected by geometric episodes of vertical circulation.

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