Conservation architect Ori Goor sees the Liebling House as an endless learning laboratory. At the end of the month, he will host a guided tour of the building that brings together vertical and horizontal aesthetics.
Ori Goor was a curious 10-year-old boy when the Bauhaus Exhibition took place in Tel Aviv. He developed an interest in modern architecture and when he received a book about the exhibition for his Bar Mitzvah, his affair with the early modern style began. Goor studied architecture in London, specializing in Intervention in Existing Urban Fabric. During his studies, he worked on buildings that were built in central London from 1830 to 1950.
As an architect, Goor is interested in conservation in its broadest sense. His firm is involved in conservation projects, buildings that mix the old with the new, as well as completely new projects. One of the fascinating projects he was involved with in Israel was the Mansion House on Lilienblum Street in Tel Aviv. Goor rented a small apartment in the old building and began, as he always did in historical buildings he lived in, to shave the walls. The sight that he revealed, later presented to tens of thousands of people who visited this Tel Aviv palace, was spectacular.
Goor has the ability to fully observe and appreciate every little detail, and the tour he will lead throughout the Liebling House will examine the theoretical and practical ideas behind the building, inspecting early modernism through a magnifying glass.
What is so interesting about the Liebling House?
“First of all, this is an iconic periodic building: its silhouette was featured in exhibitions and used in branding projects, and it obviously has its own iconic quality of taking and intensifying a particular aspect and elevating it to an ideal level. This building is an ideal presentation of one of the most important aspects of early modernism.” Which aspect?
“It possesses minimalism. In a very simplistic way, the building uses the element of the ribbon window - which is itself a translation of the width element - and demonstrates it in its facade in an almost exclusive way.”
Le Corbusier’s ribbon window?
“Le Corbusier’s, Mendelsohn’s; the ribbon window belongs to the early modernism as a whole. As an element, the ribbon window is a derivative of the transverse element. The entire aesthetics of the early modernism has been transformed from vertical to horizontal aesthetic, which relates to the perception of space, movement and the freedom of human beings to move throughout space. In 1915, the farthest a person could reach was the fifth floor, and thirty years later, people were able to fly to America. This was when the vertical element, which is pre-modern, was still considered as a pinnacle of creation. Thirty years later, planes and cars became the cutting edge of modernity, suddenly allowing the general public to access the expanses of the earth.”
According to Goor, “the aesthetics that preceded modernism was vertically oriented, while the aesthetics of modernism was transverse, focusing on horizontal expansion. This transversality is a combination of many things. One of them is the technical and engineering ability derived from the accessibility of concrete, that enabled the use of transverse elements such as beams, apertures, and wide windows in the construction. It also relates to the broadness of humanism, of the transcendental ideas of modernism that have fostered the notion that the citizen could reach every corner of the globe. This idea is embodied in the term International Style meaning every person in the world is a person all over the world. And part of this is getting on a plane and flying to America. Earth is connected via transverse, transcendental movement related to the means of transportation that were developing at the time. The glamour lays in the transverse motion. The quality of transversal elements is powerfully present in the facade of the Liebling House. In this sense, the building engaged in the core discourse of the period.”
And what happens inside the house?
“It's a slightly different story. The house was built during the golden age of modernism in Tel Aviv, so in this sense, everything that is interesting in the context of this golden age is also interesting in the Liebling House. Within this Golden Age, it is the work of a very good architect who created an iconic building during an early encounter with the style. It appears that architect Dov Karmi was excited about this new thing, that he spent time researching it. In this sense, there is also the freshness of the architect's specific language. This is one of his earlier works. And he is founding this exercise on accumulated knowledge of earlier periods that precede the emergence of modernism in Tel Aviv. You can see the remnants of the previous world in the building.”
What are those remnants?
“The European Jews, of course, and a lot of remnants of local construction that are inevitable - the people who built it and the materials available here. These three things are at play in the Liebling House: an ideal new era that is powerfully expressed in the facade of the building; a combination of the local construction capabilities related to the remains of Arab construction, together with the high availability of workers at the time, and the type of local rocks, of sand; and the third element is the human aspect - most people were European immigrants who brought with them a kind of language of lifestyle that is itself not yet modern. This building is a moment of metamorphosis, when the old world mingled into the new world, and it holds all those different parts.”
What can you, as an architect, learn from the Liebling House?
“You can spend a lifetime studying everything related to this kind of building. All the construction methods that were used in this building are currently disappearing; at the time, this construction was perceived or appeared to be industrialized, but it’s entirely handmade - this entire building looks like a machine-made product, but it’s actually a handmade house. For me, this is the true charm of the international style in Tel Aviv: seemingly industrialized and machine-made, but actually lovingly built by hand. It’s also made entirely out of local materials.”
What characterizes current constructions?
“There are no more local materials and everything is imported. All the international style buildings in Tel Aviv were influenced by the Bauhaus School and were built using local sand. Since the construction of the Aswan Dam, there is no more sand in Tel Aviv and there are no more sand deposits available in Israel. The bricks used for the original buildings were made of sand, while recent buildings are built using gravel and concrete mixture bricks.
The entire ecology is completely different. All the early modernism buildings in Tel Aviv are organic - houses built by locals from local materials. This facilitated the development of a large number of factories and manufacturing businesses in Tel Aviv and the end result was a fine organic product that expresses the intrinsic sensitivities of this type of activity. Unfortunately, current reconstructions erase all these aspects of the buildings.”
Goor explains that “in order to understand early modernism, we need to understand the power of the movement that allowed it to be realized here in the country. There was an unprecedented construction boom that is hard to imagine: about 400 buildings were built here annually during 1934-1944. This is a general estimate because this decade saw about 4,000 international style buildings constructed in Tel Aviv. In the past 15 years, with the ongoing construction boom and high-rises being built today, perhaps 30 skyscrapers have been completed. Constructing 400 buildings a year is something that has never been seen before in history, and this singularity was also acknowledged by UNESCO. The number of buildings indicates that there were local factories that had the ability to produce something that was integral to the situation itself. There were high levels of availability and precision that allowed the creation of art.”
What happened to these factories?
“They were extinct when the massive construction came to an end. Construction in the heart of the city of Tel Aviv was completed by the 1950s. At the same time, the global industry, not just in Tel Aviv, has shifted to Late Modernism - a style that can be seen as the modernism of concrete. What brought about this change were developments in industry and technology. Current buildings are based on a concrete industry that strives to produce as many parts as possible without any human interaction.”
And what happens when you design?
“Its impossible to design and build in the same way they did then. When I design, I try to make sure that at least 50 percent of the project features handmade qualities. I believe it’s something that eventually increases the level of intimacy in the houses, especially in private residence.”
What interests you about conservation?
“Conservation work helps me understand the possibilities inherent in design based on history. One of the reasons I’m involved in conservation is to eradicate the fear related to allocation or form.”
What do you mean by allocation?
“We are slightly afraid to invent shapes nowadays because the cost of manufacturing a new form is very high. The reason is it passes through industrialization mechanisms and will only be realized if it can be mass produced by machines. There is always the cost of the mold, but handmade items don’t involve molds and only have a one-time cost.”
Apart from being an architect are you also a craftsman?
“I am familiar with most construction work: electricity, carpentry, flooring. I can do everything, and I also renovate myself; I have always renovated all the houses I have lived in while I was living there, so I am very close to the material. I study the buildings, their problems, their diseases.” Architect Ori Goor will host a guided tour on Friday, January 26, at 10:00. Admission is free.