With Light, Moshe Safdie Builds a Global Architectural Legacy

January 22, 2014 12:18 am 0 comments

The view at the end of the prism of Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum, designed by Moshe Safdie. Photo: Timothy Hursley.

JNS.org - LOS ANGELES—“Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie,” on display at Los Angeles’s Skirball Cultural Center through March 2, lets the light shine in on the famed Israeli-Canadian architect’s work around the world.

Through architectural models, photos, and renderings, the retrospective reveals how Safdie, who was born in Haifa in 1938 and moved to Canada with his family when he was young, has integrated culture, history, and modern design into his projects on three continents.

Safdie’s work encompasses more than 85 completed buildings, communities, and master plans, converting into structures the dreams and construction budgets of a surprisingly diverse clientele—including mid-westerners in Wichita, Indian Sikhs in Punjab, and the governments of Israel, Canada, and the United States.

His most significant commissions have been for the public sphere: cultural centers, libraries, memorials, schools, religious facilities, and museums, including the Skirball Cultural Center, where two new buildings that he designed—spaces for social gatherings, lectures, and meetings—have recently been added to his overall plan for the culture center’s campus.

A sense of place is built into his work, especially at a site like Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., where low-slung pavilions are situated around reflecting pools, filled by a nearby stream.

“I can’t design without being on the site. I have to see the relationship,” Safdie, after taking a group on a tour of his recently completed Skirball structures, said in an interview with JNS.org.

Speaking of the Skirball, Safdie pointed out that “it’s not a building about religion.” It was the culture center’s “content” and “activities,” he believed, that would make a Jew identify with Judaism. “The architecture enhances the activity,” he explained.

The Skirball is “becoming increasingly social, not just Jewish,” said Safdie, who worked on the project from its inception with Skirball founding president and CEO Uri D. Herscher, who is also a rabbi.

“People have written generally that museums are becoming a replacement for houses of worship,” said Safdie, whose additions to the Skirball are being pitched by the institution as places for “social celebrations,” including bar and bat mitzvahs.

The new spaces, which are light-filled and connected to outdoor patios and gardens, are clearly connected to his earlier work. Beginning with the groundbreaking “Habitat” he designed for Montreal’s Expo ’67—the residential community of stacked, prefabricated, concrete blocks that eventually put him on the cover of Newsweek when he was 33—to his cathedral like tower of glass and steel entry way in the National Gallery of Canada, and the wall of glass reading area of his Salt Lake City public library, architectural models on display demonstrate how light is the central theme of Safdie’s work.

According to Donald Albrecht, the Skirball show’s curator who wrote the accompanying book, “Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie,” Safdie’s “language of transcendent light, powerful geometric form, and metaphoric imagery produces building that are ceremonial and uplifting.”

“I’m a light maniac,” admitted Safdie. “Light is central. Light is our wellbeing. Light is nourishing. Deprivation of light is a very bad thing for us,” he added.

But according to Albrecht, Safdie also has detractors. They see him as an architect whose “grand forms seem bombastic, his contextual references ersatz, his metaphors too facile,” wrote Albrecht.

For example, Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum has been labeled by some as “too theatrical and too optimistic,” according to Albrecht. Nonetheless, the museum for which Safdie felt an “extraordinary responsibility” has become a must-see of Israel.

The design is a long triangular, mostly underground structure that cuts across Yad Vashem’s hillside. According to the show’s text, visitors walk through a “dimly lit narrow space tracing the development of Nazism and the horrors of the Holocaust,” that eventually opens onto a panoramic sunlit view of Israel.

Many of Safdie’s project drawings are also on display. “We use a computer all the time, but it doesn’t substitute for sketching,” said Safdie. “My sketches are essential to the process; I can’t think on a computer,” he said.

He also uses Legos. “I used them to make Habitat,” said Safdie, who noted that Lego had transformed his three-towered fantasy, Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore, into an architecture set of the interlocking plastic blocks.

Considering that Safdie is an architect whose projects have been built under various governments, and in countries with miniscule Jewish populations like Bangladesh, or Beijing—or even a Muslim country like Dubai, where he completed plans for mosque (not built)—he has never experienced anti-Semitism. “I have never felt it my career,” said Safdie.

Speaking about the future of the profession, Safdie, who has also taught at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, felt that students of architecture “underestimate what they need to do.”

“They think it’s all one design party, but it’s not,” he said. Safdie estimated that design represents only 20 percent of the time he spends on projects, the rest being spent on translating a concept to reality and “dealing with the world.”

Despite Safdie’s success—both he and his work are even on Canadian postage stamps—he generally sees his profession as “underpaid and under-rewarded.” But he still encourages those who are passionate about architecture to go into the field.

“If it gives you satisfaction, it’s wonderful,” he said. “There are great rewards.”

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Education Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    JNS.org – My wife Suzy and I will never forget our wedding day. It was not just the uplifting ceremony and beautiful party that left an indelible mark. Some life-altering advice that we received from one of our guests informed and shaped our lives from that day forward. My high school teacher, Rabbi Moshe Yagid, pulled us aside just before the chuppah and challenged us to choose one mitzvah that would be the foundation of our marriage and our lives. He explained [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    JNS.org – At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is 27-year-old Albert Allaham’s story, too, with a few unusual twists. Albert’s “century” is the 21st—he arrived almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from a small town along the Danube river, his shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    Did you know that in the entire Bible, only one birthday is mentioned and it is that of Pharaoh? And did you know that according to some scientists, by accepting Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, it is impossible to prove or disprove that the sun is the gravitational center of our solar system? In his new book, REBBE, best-selling author Joseph Telushkin reveals many surprising and sometimes shocking details as he chronicles the life and teachings of the charismatic Rabbi [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Mitzvos New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    JNS.org – Omelet sandwich: 5 shekels. Iced coffee: 5 shekels. Tuna sandwich: 5 shekels. Fresh-squeezed orange juice: 5 shekels. Cheese bureka: 5 shekels. There’s plenty more on the Cofizz menu, but you get the idea. Dani Mizrahi and Amir Amshalm, two Israeli men in their early 30s, asked themselves: Why not launch a take-out food joint in busy neighborhoods around Jerusalem where everything—and that means everything—goes for five shekels, or about $1.50. They’d seen the concept take off in Tel Aviv, where [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    The new FX Network drama Tyrant was shot entirely in Israel, just 10 miles north of Tel Aviv, Bloomberg News reported last Tuesday. Tyrant follows the life of an Arab dictator’s second son Barry, played by Adam Rayner, who reluctantly returns home to the Middle Eastern nation of his birth to join the family business away from his suburban life in America. The elaborate set production for the primetime drama included a crew of 300 and a reported cost of over $3 million [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Skokie, Il-born 25-year-old Erin Heatherton (Erin Heather Bubley) is rocking the modeling world. And in a new interview accompanying a cover spread for Miami’s Ocean Drive magazine, she says Jewish moms are “constantly trying to set her up with their sons.” Imagine that – who would have thought? “The moms, they’re doing what they do. It doesn’t matter what country they live in, what city – grandmothers, too,” she admitted. “But I’m probably going to do that too one day.” Heatherton was [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Israel First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    Some 15 Turkish university professors and lecturers will take part in a first of its kind seminar at Holocaust museum Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies starting next week. The trip is especially significant as Holocaust denial is rampant in the Arab world. A Palestinian professor was recently forced to resign after he led a trip to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz. Participants in the week-long program at Yad Vashem will experience in-depth tours of the museum’s archives and [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.