The construction site of the mausoleum for Bahá’í leader ‘Abdu’l Bahá, east of Haifa Bay, Israel. (photo by Gil Zohar)
Construction of Vancouver-based architect Hossein Amanat’s mausoleum for Bahá’í leader ‘Abdu’l Bahá (1844-1921) was set back when a fire on April 8 caused significant damage to the main building at the holy site just east of Haifa Bay, Israel.
The Iranian-Canadian architect’s design features a sloping geometric meditation garden rising in a sunburst pattern to form a dome covering the tomb. Amanat’s neoclassical Persian structure extends the Ridván Garden, which was a favourite oasis where ‘Abdu’l Bahá’s father, Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892) – the founder of the Bahá’í faith – retreated after he was released from Acre Prison in 1877. The modest house in which he stayed during his visits there has been restored. After his father’s death, the Iran-born ‘Abdu’l Bahá’ popularized the new religion outside the Middle East in a series of visits to Montreal, and cities in the United States and Europe.
Amanat, 80, fled his native Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and settled in Canada. He is best known for his Shahyad Freedom Tower in central Tehran, which was dedicated in 1972 to honour the Pahlavi dynasty. Following Iran’s revolution, the monumental 45-metre-high archway was renamed the Azadi Tower, after the square in which it stands.
Amanat also designed a series of Bahá’í administrative buildings on Mount Carmel, including the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, the Centre for the Study of the Sacred Texts, and the Centre for the International Counselors.
The April 8 blaze destroyed “several months of work” on the 2,900-square-metre circular platform and piazza, the Universal House of Justice (the governing council of the Bahá’í faith) said in an April 14 statement. Clouds of smoke billowed from the mausoleum, prompting firefighters to evacuate the nearby suburbs of Giv’at Hatmarim and Afgad.
The fire broke out when windblown sparks from welding on the dome ignited scaffolding and plastic forms being used to mold poured concrete, Ynet reported. The completed concrete walls and structures were undamaged, and the 250 million shekel ($77 million US) project – announced in 2019 – is insured, said the Universal House of Justice. The shrine and meditation garden are being paid for by donations from Bahá’í faith’s five million members around the world.
Bahá’í media representative Sama Sabet said construction “will resume soon.” She didn’t estimate the cost of the damage.
For the last century, ‘Abdu’l Bahá has been temporarily entombed in Haifa’s shrine of Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad Shírází (1819-1850), popularly known as the Báb (“Gate” in Arabic). Shírází was executed in Tabriz for apostasy after claiming to be the deputy of the promised Twelver Mahdi, or al-Qa’im. According to legend, the firing squad’s initial barrage of bullets failed to hit him, and a second team of shooters was brought in. As a Shiite heretic, his body was fed to dogs. It was rescued and hidden by believers.
In 1908, all Ottoman political and religious prisoners were freed by the Young Turk revolution. Newly released, ‘Abdu’l Bahá smuggled the Báb’s remains to Ottoman Palestine and built his iconic shrine midway up Mount Carmel, near where he himself was living. Its dome, visible from the Haifa harbour along the axis of the German Colony, was gilded in 1953.
The mausoleum and garden south of the Tel Akko archeological mound will be one of seven Bahá’í holy sites, ornamental meditation gardens and administrative complexes in a western Galilee pilgrimage route stretching from Mazra’a near Nahariya south through Acre (Akko in Hebrew and Akka in Arabic) to Mount Carmel in Haifa. The serene mausoleums of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh – together with their adjoining gardens, characterized by their sacred geometry and immaculate landscaping – were registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2008.
The Bahá’í faith believes in progressive revelation – that God has revealed himself in a series of manifestations, including Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and, most recently, Bahá’u’lláh.
In 1863, Bahá’u’lláh fulfilled the Báb’s prophecies by proclaiming the Bahá’í faith. The new creed eventually evolved into a global religion. Exiled from Persia to Ottoman Baghdad and then the imperial capital Constantinople (today Istanbul) in 1868, Bahá’u’lláh was imprisoned in Acre’s Turkish citadel in remote Palestine. For Israelis, the notorious jail and its gallows are best known for the prison breakout on May 4, 1947, near the end of the British Mandate of Palestine, in which gunmen from the Irgun underground freed 27 incarcerated freedom fighters.
After being released from Acre Prison, Bahá’u’lláh moved six kilometres north to Mazra’a, also called Mazra’ih. Two years later, he settled in the Mansion of Bahjí (meaning “delight”) in Acre. That palatial home was built in 1821 by ‘Abdu’lláh Páshá, then the Ottoman governor of Acre. Bahá’u’lláh remained there until his death in 1892.
In addition to the mausoleums of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í pilgrimage sites in Haifa and the western Galilee on UNESCO’s World Heritage List include the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh and adjoining Mansion of Bahjí and Bahjí Gardens in Acre; the Shrine of the Báb; the 19 terraces of the Bahá’í Gardens and Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa; and the House of ‘Abbud in the Old City of Acre, where the Bahá’u’lláh spent time after being released from prison.
Gil Zohar is a writer and tour guide in Jerusalem.
With the speed of a street-corner caricaturist yet the precision of someone who seemingly misses nothing, Ben Levinson has for decades been capturing the cityscapes of the many places to which he has traveled with his wife, Carla. No pencil, no erasing. Just a black ink pen and a small sketchbook.
“My architectural career taught me to sketch quickly and furiously, and I am able to see details that most would not see,” Levinson told the Independent in an interview earlier this fall.
During these adventures, Levinson has sketched everything of architectural interest to him: churches, cathedrals, mosques, pyramids and, of course, synagogues, while Carla would station herself at a café.
By the time she was done with her coffee and croissant, Ben would have a complete rendering to show her. During the infrequent occasions she would finish first, incomplete drawings would be filled out when they reached their hotel.
The alacrity, accuracy and artistry of the sketches were at times the envy of those whom they encountered on their travels.
“We met artists whose wives and partners waited all too patiently and were ready to move on, whereas Ben was long done,” Carla said.
After looking through Ben’s sketchbooks one day, Carla suggested he do a show devoted to synagogues. Carla, who ran Victoria’s Gallery 1248, helped curate the selection of sketches that appeared at the Wings of Peace Gallery at Victoria’s Congregation Emanu-El from Sept. 4 through Yom Kippur. Now those sketches have been compiled into a book which is tentatively titled In Search of Identity: The Story of the Wandering Jew.
The book’s 49 sketches transport the viewer throughout the old and the new worlds. Many of the sketches are connected by the common experience of Jews moving on because of antisemitic treatment, despite centuries of coexistence in a community.
The figurative journey, which includes interiors and exteriors and is really the result of several holidays the Levinsons took over the span of two decades, sets off in Toledo, Spain, home to one of the few remaining synagogues left after the Spanish Inquisition scattered Jews throughout Europe and the Americas. Levinson’s exhibit and book spend a lot of time in Sephardi lands: a 14th-century Moorish-style synagogue in Cordoba; a tiny shul in Tomar, Portugal, the only pre-Renaissance temple in the country; larger houses of worship in Morocco, home to the largest Jewish population in the Arab world; and, finally, to the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, completed in 1675.
Poignant reminders of the once-thriving Jewish communities of Eastern Europe follow. Levinson leads the viewer through Berlin, Prague and Budapest, along with artistic reconstructions of the Terezin sleeping barracks and an ancient dig in Vienna.
The voyage shifts to France, Italy and Scandinavia, with the majestic Marais synagogue in Paris, the synagogue at the Museum of Jewish Life in Trieste and the Gothenburg Synagogue, the scene of a firebomb attack in 2017.
Levinson also presents active scenes of a crowd forming outside a Venice synagogue on a sunny Shabbat morning, passersby in front of an Antwerp temple and a sea of bicycles by the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen.
The visual trip wraps up with drawings from Mexico City and the Byzantine-style building of Libertad Synagogue in Buenos Aires.
Born in Medicine Hat, Alta., in 1942, Levinson graduated from the University of Manitoba’s architectural program. In 1966, he moved to Victoria and worked for various firms before starting his 30-year private practice as president of Benjamin Bryce Levinson Architects in 1980. In addition to leading his practice, he continued sketching and showing his work at various venues, including the Architectural Institute of British Columbia and the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver.
Levinson was instrumental in restoring Congregation Emanu-El in the early 1980s. When he arrived in town, he felt an initial disappointment upon seeing the synagogue with “its pink stucco, balcony balustrade pickets, missing fence and hidden dome ceiling.” He helped the synagogue’s leadership in obtaining grants and helped steer the building and fundraising committees to get the money necessary to revitalize the region’s most historic Jewish building.
Small Town Architect, the name of his first book, documents his 40-year career in architectural design and recounts his travels and artistic endeavours. His work can be found throughout Victoria and in numerous communities throughout the province; in elementary schools, municipal halls, grocery stores and restaurants, among other buildings.
Sam Margolis has written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), a nonprofit, Washington, D.C.-based education and advocacy organization, announced last month that award-winning Vancouver landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander is the namesake of a recently established prize.
The Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize (“Oberlander Prize”), which will be conferred biennially beginning in 2021, is the first and only international landscape architecture prize that includes a $100,000 US award, along with two years of public engagement activities. The naming announcement was made at an event at the Consulate General of Canada in New York City.
The 98-year-old Oberlander has been in practice for more than 70 years. Her notable projects include the New York Times building courtyard (with HMWhite landscape architects and urban designers), the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, the Canadian chancery in Washington, D.C., the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Canadian embassy in Berlin, Robson Square in Vancouver, the Vancouver Public Library, and many others. Oberlander has worked on public housing in the United States and Canada, pioneered playground design with the Children’s Creative Centre at Montreal’s Expo ’67 (and designed 70 other playgrounds), was an early champion of green roofs and, for decades, has advocated for landscape architecture’s leading role in addressing environmental, ecological and social issues and the impact of climate change.
Oberlander is held in high regard both within and beyond her profession, as is reflected in the early results of a campaign to raise $1 million to help endow the Oberlander Prize, with commitments of $10,000 each from and/or on behalf of 100 women, part of a broader campaign to raise $4.5 million. The 100 Women Campaign launched in July 2019 and its website includes information about each of the more than 70 women who have contributed to date.
“It was the consensus of the prize advisory committee, which helped shaped the prize, and TCLF’s board of directors that Oberlander’s inspiring and trailblazing career in the field of landscape architecture exemplifies the critical values and ideals of the prize, and that she is someone who embodies the prize criteria of creativity, courage and vision,” said Charles A. Birnbaum, TCLF’s president and chief executive officer.
In tandem with the naming of the prize, all of Oberlander’s publicly accessible works are being added to TCLF’s What’s Out There landscape database; on June 20, 2021, the centennial of Oberlander’s birth, TCLF will host a What’s Out There Weekend of free, expert-led tours of Oberlander’s landscapes in the United States, Canada and Germany; and an update to TCLF’s 2008 Pioneers Oral History with Oberlander has been produced. More public engagement events will be announced later. See tclf.org/prize.
A gifted musician turned world-renowned architect, Daniel Libeskind can now add bestselling author to his list of accomplishments, with his unique book Edge of Order (Clarkson Potter, 2018), written with Tim McKeough.
Libeskind was born in Poland to Holocaust survivor parents. He spent his first 11 years in a communist, totalitarian state.
“I was born in a homeless shelter right after the war, and we were then lucky to be able to leave the first time the Iron Curtain opened,” Libeskind told the Independent. “We were able to go to my first paradise, which was Israel. Israel was only 8 years old at that time. It was amazing to go from black-and-white to full colour and the beauty of liberty.”
Of Libeskind’s father’s large family, his only surviving sister, who survived Auschwitz, was living in New York. So, after only two-and-a half years in Israel, the Libeskinds made their way to the United States.
But, before leaving Israel, Libeskind was an accordion virtuoso, at only 13 years old. Winning a competition with Itzhak Perlman, he had the opportunity to play for Isaac Stern. After hearing him, Stern suggested that Libeskind transition into playing piano, but Libeskind found the adjustment too difficult.
“Maybe that’s why I became an architect,” he said. “If I hadn’t played the accordion, I would have never been an architect, I would have become a famous pianist. I have to say that Isaac Stern, who I knew subsequently, told me I was the only person that they ever gave this [honour] to that didn’t become famous in music.”
In the United States, Libeskind’s family settled in the Bronx. When it came time for him to choose a career path, he didn’t know what to do, as he excelled in math, science and art.
“I really wasn’t sure because, in my life, I had never met an architect, an engineer, a doctor…. I had little idea of so-called professions that existed in a world somewhere beyond the Bronx,” he said. “I discovered that architecture combined all my interests – painting, drawing, mathematics, science … all the things I loved to do.”
Libeskind tried working for some well-known architects, but felt uninspired. So, for many years, he worked as a professor of architecture at various universities around the world and then as head of a school of architecture.
“I really invented a path of architecture through my drawings,” he said. “My drawings were not figurative drawings of imaginary buildings. I drew the internal structure of architecture, what architecture is when you don’t have a client. I drew these drawings almost like musical scores.
“For many years, I did that and I was considered, like some others, as a paper architect … somebody who’s just on paper. But, then I won the competition for what later became the Jewish Museum in Berlin…. It was not originally called the Jewish Museum, it was called the Berlin Museum with a Jewish department, but I negated that, as I never believed Jews should be a department….”
It took more than 10 years to build the Jewish Museum in Berlin. It was scheduled to open the fall of 2001, but then 9-11 happened, so the opening was delayed.
Libeskind felt the need to go to New York. When construction on the World Trade Centre site was being considered, Libeskind was asked to be a judge of the entries. He could not make it to the judging on time, so instead entered his own design idea. He won the competition and became the master planner of the project.
In writing Edge of Order, Libeskind wanted to share his creative process and how he approaches architecture.
“I believe every member of the public is capable … of not only appreciating design and architecture but of participating in it, hands-on,” he said. “I always say, ‘Every human being can pick up a brush and start painting. Anybody can sit down and write a poem. Anybody can take their iPhone and make a film. Anybody can sit down and write a melody. But, when it comes to architecture, they think it’s a world of the impossible.”
In Edge of Order, Libeskind shows how architecture is just another artistic field that anyone can do, explaining how buildings are not made by some abstract hieroglyphic methodology, but are part of culture, just like music and geometry. The book encourages people to participate and engage with architecture directly where they live.
“Most people think … everything is irreversible, that you’re born with it and that’s that. People don’t realize that they can change,” said Libeskind. “They can make the world a better place, a more meaningful place.
“Architecture is such an important aspect of the world,” he continued. “We take it for granted, but it’s what the world looks like to us, the window we have to the world.”
Libeskind wrote Edge of Order with the hope of inspiring people to think about how they can do things, instead of feeling like they don’t have the credentials or know-how to design their dreams. He thinks that everyone is an architect and he wants to help people realize that they, too, can build.
“My ideal reader could be a young person who doesn’t know what they want to do, or it can be an older person who had always wished to be an architect,” said Libeskind. “My point is that everybody can be, and that everybody already knows so much more about architecture than about anything else … because we all live somewhere … even if you’re homeless.”
He said his idea is about freedom – “freedom to build, to really direct the world to a better way.”
In Edge of Order, Libeskind also talks about the importance of embracing democracy and that we need to be vigilant against forces that would impoverish the human potential.
“When I see what is happening in the world … of course, we see the evils around us and we have to fight against them … and have the sense that the world is a better place than we see on television or on the news,” he said.
Currently, Libeskind is working on dozens of museums around the world, spanning all the continents.
“I’m such a lucky architect on every continent,” he said, adding, “I’m a very fortunate person.”
Cornelia Oberlander collaborated with architect Arthur Erickson on many projects, including the Downtown Vancouver Law Courts. (photo by Joe Mabel via commons.wikimedia.org)
At 95 years old, landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander can look back on a string of stellar accomplishments.
From the Arctic Circle to Vancouver, from Ottawa to New York to Berlin, Oberlander has carved out a new relationship between the urban environment and nature, created innovative approaches to playgrounds for generations of children and spearheaded initiatives for environmental sustainability.
But she is still struggling with one of the most intractable problems that she has confronted throughout her career, now stretching into its seventh decade. What does a landscape architect do?
When she walks onto the stage of Temple Sholom’s Dreamers and Builders Gala dinner on March 5 at Vancouver Convention Centre East, Oberlander will come with a simple message. “I do not just bring the bushes,” she says. “I take care of the environment.”
During a recent interview at her home near Pacific Spirit Park, Oberlander repeatedly comes back to the challenge of explaining the work of a landscape architect.
She passes quickly over projects that made her an influential trailblazer on the global stage. She does not want a spotlight shining on her own life story and her quiet but unwavering lifetime commitment to Temple Sholom. She is hesitant to say too much about projects she is now working on.
“Look at the big picture and not all the other stuff,” she tells me. She wants to talk about the design process, building landscapes commensurate with climate change, and the need for green spaces in cities.
She sees the gala as an educational opportunity. “It’s about tikkun olam, which means, to heal the earth,” she says.
At the inaugural Temple Sholom Dreamers and Builders Gala, Oberlander will be honoured for her work as a landscape architect and as a founding member of the synagogue. A highlight of the evening will be biographer Ira Nadel in conversation with Oberlander. Among his numerous books, Nadel, in 1977, co-authored with Oberlander and Lesley Bohm Trees in the City, which advocates for integration of trees into the pattern and function of urban activity.
Temple Sholom will also unveil an $1,800 youth award for a teen who has demonstrated a passion for healing the world through tikkun olam.
Oberlander has been called a national treasure, the dean of Canada’s landscape architects. With a feisty personality and resolute sense of purpose, she has been regarded as “a force of nature” and “the grand dame of green design.”
World-renowned “starchitect” Moshe Safdie has collaborated with Oberlander on several projects over the past 35 years, including the Vancouver Public Library and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. “It was a joy to work with her,” he says.
Oberlander is passionate about integrating landscape with architecture, says Safdie. “Above all, Cornelia is a great craftsman of landscape, paying as much attention to concepts as to the craft of sustaining plant-life both in the natural and built environment.”
Oberlander is a fearless innovator, says Phyllis Lambert, architect and founder of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. Oberlander not only considers the ecology, the natural environment and the nature of soils, plants, light and shade, she also looks into the history associated with the landscape and the architectural design. “No one else does that,” says Lambert.
When I phone Oberlander for an interview, she has difficulty finding time to speak with me. She maintains an incredibly busy professional life. “I just got another job this morning. I have six huge jobs,” she says shortly after we finally meet.
Oberlander works from a studio in her spectacular 1970 post-and-beam home on stilts above a ravine, surrounded by hemlocks, western cedars, big leaf maples and 20-foot-high rhododendron species. The boundary between indoors and outside is fuzzy. With huge glass walls, she can see forest and sky from most spots in her home.
Oberlander’s mother Beate Hahn, a horticulturalist, published books on gardening. Oberlander, born in Mulheim, Germany, decided when she was 11 that she wanted to create parks. Susan Herrington, in Cornelia Hahn Oberlander: Making the Modern Landscape, writes that Oberlander, by the age of 15, was sketching drawings of wooded parkland and experimenting with organic gardening, using birds and insects to mitigate pests.
Oberlander’s father, an industrial engineer, died in 1932 during an avalanche while skiing. Oberlander came to the United States in 1939 with her mother and sister and, after completing high school, enrolled in Smith College, a women’s college in western Massachusetts.
By the time she graduated from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design in 1947, she viewed landscape architecture as much more than gardens. She had been taught to look for inspiration for design and plant material in history, art and culture and to seek out collaboration across disciplines. Oberlander now describes her approach as the art and science of the possible. The spark of creativity is the art; research coupled with analysis is the science.
Her perspective continued to evolve. “I am trying to show in my landscape today the impact of climate change and clean air, emphasis on alternative energy with low carbon emissions, sustainable use of water and land, preservation of endangered species and protection of the biodiversity,” she says in the interview. “We [landscape architects] are no longer just garden-making. We are creating environments for human beings that are commensurate with saving the environment.”
Oberlander worked in the early 1950s in Philadelphia before moving to Vancouver in 1953 with Peter Oberlander, who she met while at Harvard. Peter had been invited to Vancouver to establish the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia.
In her early years in Vancouver, she designed landscapes for private homes and children’s playgrounds. Her innovative approach to playgrounds began to attract attention following her work on the Children’s Creative Centre at the Canada Pavilion at Expo ’67.
Oberlander reimagined what a playground could be. She replaced swings and metal climbing structures with trees, piles of sand, a stream, logs and covered areas. In the following years, her ideas about spontaneous exploration and unstructured play spread across the continent.
Although her name-recognition is limited outside professional circles, most Vancouverites have enjoyed the benefits of her designs. Oberlander reshaped how Vancouver relates to its waterfront with an idea she had in 1963, as she was driving along Jericho Beach. City staff were burning logs that had washed ashore. She recalls going straight to the park board office with a proposal to use the logs as benches. They gave her a hearing and heeded her advice.
It was her work in the 1970s with architect Arthur Erickson that took her reputation beyond the playground. Beginning a relationship that lasted more than 30 years, she collaborated with Erickson on the Robson Square courthouse and government complex, one of the earliest green roofs in North America. She created an oasis in the centre of Vancouver with white pines, Japanese maples, white azaleas, roses, dogwoods and citrus trees. Her work on Robson Square established her reputation for meticulous research into soils, plants and structures, her creative ideas, and her “invisible mending” for weaving nature into urban development.
At UBC’s Museum of Anthropology (1976), she designed a simulation of an open meadow in Haida Gwaii with indigenous grasses and plants used by First Nations for medicine and food. At the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa in 1988, she envisioned the landscape as an extension of the museum’s collection of Group of Seven paintings. Her work in the 1990s on the C.K. Choi Building at UBC, with its biological marsh to process recycled water, and the legislative building in the Northwest Territories, reflect her commitment to sustainability, the inclusion of social and cultural values and the use of native plants. Determined to rely on indigenous plants in the Arctic, she collected seeds and cuttings, and brought them to Vancouver to propagate. Three years later, she took the plants back and nestled them among the rocks outside the building.
Oberlander brought greenery to the heart of Manhattan in 2007, planting northern birch trees amid sculpted mounds in a central courtyard of the New York Times building. In Vancouver around the same time, she turned to botanist Archibald Menzies, who accompanied Captain George Vancouver in 1792, for the selection of plant material, bulbs and grasses on the roof garden at the Van Dusen Botanical Garden Visitors Centre. She used only plants that he described more than 220 years ago.
Pointing to stacks of research notes, drawings and books scattered about her studio and in two other rooms, she stresses the importance of research and of integrating the site with the building. She says she is constantly looking for new technologies to advance sustainability and respond to climate change. “As a landscape architect, you have to know the building, the reason for the building, the way the building works,” she says.
Oberlander is hesitant to reveal all her current commissions, saying some are “political.” But she mentions that, after our interview, she is going to a meeting on restoring the grounds of the so-called Friedman House, designed by Swiss architect Frederic Lasserre. The mid-century modern house, built in 1953 for Sydney and Constance Friedman, was her first project when she moved to Vancouver.
Also, she is part of a team redesigning a garden at the National Gallery of Ottawa, she is conducting research on the lack of green spaces in downtown Vancouver and she is working on a roof garden for a small apartment block in South Granville. As we talk, she pulls out drawings of a new roof garden at the Vancouver Public Library, where she is working with a team redesigning the roof garden that she designed in the early 1990s.
Oberlander has received the most prestigious awards in the world of landscape architecture but she diverts the focus away from her achievements. “What is amazing is that landscape architecture, the way I practise it, is being recognized,” she says.
Throughout her career, she and her husband Peter maintained close ties to Temple Sholom.
In searching for their place in the early 1960s in Vancouver’s Jewish community, the young couple with three children felt that something was missing. They decided to bring Reform Judaism, already familiar to Peter from his childhood in Vienna, to Vancouver. Gathering a small group of Jews in their living room in 1964, they were among the founders of Temple Sholom.
Oberlander shared her passions and talents with Temple Sholom over the years: providing honey and home-grown apples at Rosh Hashanah, reading the Book of Jonah with Peter on Yom Kippur for more than 20 years, and beautifying the holy community both inside with flowers for the High Holidays and with peaceful exterior landscapes. She also designed Temple Sholom’s cemetery in Surrey.
As I step outside at the end of the interview, she recalls the words of her husband Peter three days before he died in 2008.
“He said to me, tikkun olam,” she says. “I said, yes, you have done that all your life with the city and I with my greening efforts.
“And he looked me straight in the eye and said, you, Cornelia, must carry on.
“And so I know every day what I am supposed to do.”
Robert Matas, a Vancouver-based writer, is a former journalist with the Globe and Mail.
Israel Antiquities Authority’s new 36,000-square-metre, three-level National Campus for Archeology of Israel, designed by architect Moshe Safdie to descend like excavation strata, is still under construction. (photo by Ardon Bar Hama, Israel Antiquities Authority, via Ashernet)
Located on Museum Hill in Giv’at Ram between the Israel Museum and the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, the facility will allow the public to see some of the tens of thousands of archeological items presently being held in store rooms and to watch, through windows, conservation being carried out on a variety of national treasures. Twenty-six donors, together with a significant contribution from the state, made it possible to go ahead with the $105 million project, which is expected to be complete in about a year’s time.
Oberlander Residence II, Vancouver. Peter Oberlander and Barry Downs, architects, 1969. Photograph by Selwyn Pullan, 1970. Courtesy of West Vancouver Museum.
New Ways of Living: Jewish Architects in Vancouver, 1955 to 1975, “focuses on two significant expressions of modernism in the practices of Jewish architects and landscape architects in Vancouver,” explained curator Chanel Blouin at the exhibit’s launch Jan. 28. “First, the integration of the West Coast Modern home into the natural landscape in a way that invites the outdoors in. And, second, in creating home designs that respond to the specific needs and living habits of the family within.”
For her research, Blouin interviewed architect Judah Shumiatcher; architects Kate and Erika Gerson, daughters of the late architect Wolfgang Gerson; University of British Columbia professors emeritus Andrew Gruft and Rhodri Windsor-Liscombe; Leslie van Duzer, head of UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) and author of House Shumiatcher; and landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, whose late husband, architect Peter Oberlander, is featured in the exhibit, as well.
In addition to the interviews, Blouin traveled to the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal to consult their collections, in particular that on Hahn Oberlander. A highlight of the online exhibit, which can be found at jewishmuseum.ca, is the photography of the houses featured, including photos by Michael Perlmutter, Selwyn Pullan and Fred Schiffer.
“Architecture and the design of cities have always been interests of mine, and I’ve known for awhile that there are and have been members of our community who are or were innovators in these fields,” said Michael Schwartz, coordinator of programs and development at the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, about the exhibit’s origins. “As we move from theme to theme in each of our exhibits and in each issue of The Scribe, it seemed fitting to turn the lens on this group. Chanel has a footing in architectural history, so when we hired her, this was the topic she was most drawn to. As she progressed through her research, it became clear what era and which individuals to focus on.”
Blouin was hired by the JMABC for the summer of 2015 with support from the Canadian Heritage program Young Canada Works. An extension to the grant allowed her contract to continue through January 2016, said Schwartz, “giving her time to dig much deeper into the topic and produce a more comprehensive result.”
Blouin, a master’s student in art history at UBC, will begin her PhD at University College London in September. “My current research was influenced by my work on New Ways of Living and considers the complex genealogy of the mid-century modern residential designs conceived by the Oberlanders and Wolfgang Gerson,” she told the Independent. “I want to examine how these figures’ exposure to Central European modern art and architecture of the Bauhaus and Werkbund in the Weimar period, as well as their exile and studies at the Architectural Association and the Harvard School of Design with Walter Gropius, influenced their practices in Vancouver.”
About 200 people attended the launch of the exhibit at Inform Interiors. There was a panel discussion between Blouin, Shumiatcher and Windsor-Liscombe; and Hahn Oberlander, the Gersons and van Duzer were in attendance. “There were also representatives from the Jewish Federation, the City of Vancouver and Canadian Heritage, all strong supporters of the JMABC,” said Schwartz.
In his opening remarks, Schwartz noted, “Not only are we very pleased to launch this new exhibit, New Ways of Living, but this week marks the 45th anniversary of the Jewish Museum and Archives of B.C.
“We have with us tonight our founder, Cyril Leonoff, who had the original vision of an organization that would preserve and celebrate the history of Jewish life in B.C…. With a small, dedicated corps of volunteers, Cyril collected documents and carried out oral history interviews with some of our community’s earliest pioneers – people who, in the 1960s, were already in their 80s and 90s.
“From this founding collection, our archives have since grown to comprise over 300,000 photographs, 750 oral history interviews and 300 metres of documents recounting all aspects of the rich 150-year history of our community.”
In the panel discussion, Blouin spoke about the process of developing and curating the exhibit. “I also provided an introduction to the major themes in the exhibit, such as the features of the West Coast style of architecture, site specificity and the important events that introduced Vancouverites to the modernist ethos in the postwar period,” she said. “Rhodri Windsor-Liscombe elaborated further on Jewish involvement in the development of the West Coast Modern home and considered questions of Jewish identity. Judah Shumiatcher shared the story of House Shumiatcher. He described the experience of designing his home and the challenges that the steep slope of the landscape posed as well as the property’s incredible views. We also had a lively Q&A period with many interesting questions from the audience.”
This interaction and excitement is why the JMABC does a launch event. While online exhibits are more cost-efficient and “have no expiry date,” said Schwartz, meaning that researchers around the world will be able to access this material years from now, “there is still value in creating an occasion for people to come together to learn about and celebrate our past. This is why events like the exhibit launch are so important; they give us the chance to dig deeper into the topic and share with our audience a glimpse into the exhibit creation process. This shared experience so essential to museums is generally missing from an online exhibit, hence the need to supplement the exhibit with public programs.”
Blouin said, “One of the most interesting ideas that I hope people will take away from this exhibit is the fact that Vancouver is home to an extraordinary regional style. Many iconic West Coast Modern homes are located in Point Grey and West Vancouver and it’s possible to visit some of them – the West Vancouver Museum provides annual tours. The West Coast style is complex and the Jewish architects who arrived to the city in the postwar period played a prominent role in its development. It’s a fascinating history!”
The exhibit online, the content of which Blouin wrote, explains that Vancouver “underwent a period of momentous transformation and modernization” after the Second World War. “Returning veterans and new immigrants alike prompted a need for more affordable housing, transportation systems, civic spaces and infrastructure. Between 1940 and 1970, Vancouver required 45,000 new housing units to accommodate the city’s growing population. The city’s expansion was informed by new thinking on improved civic living.”
Blouin explained, “The vibrant art and architecture community that converged around the newly founded School of Architecture at UBC introduced the modernist ethos in Vancouver through various means, including a series of Richard Neutra lectures. The first director of the school, Frederic Lasserre, and B.C. Binning promoted modern architecture in response to the shifting needs of the city.”
The regional domestic architecture of this period “was the post-and-beam house built of locally sourced cedar with wide overhangs and large horizontal windows. Regional West Coast innovations included an exposed timber frame, which allowed for open fluid spaces and immense freestanding ribbon windows oriented toward the picturesque views of the Pacific Northwest landscape.”
While parts of the modernist project will not carry into the future – Marine Gardens, for example, 70 family-sized units designed by Hahn Oberlander and Michael Katz in the 1970s, will be replaced by large residential towers comprising more than 500 units – it will leave a legacy, believes Blouin.
“I think the modernist project has and will continue to inform our thinking about sensitive architecture that responds to both the landscape and the people who inhabit their interiors,” she said. “I hope that New Ways of Living and similar projects, such as the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) West Coast Modern homes book series, will raise awareness about the significance of the West Coast-style homes and the importance of preserving them as they become endangered by escalating land values.”
עמר ארבל שנולד בירושלים שנחשב לאחד האדריכלים והמעצבים הבולטים כיום בקנדה
עמר (בלי וו) ארבל בן ה-37 נחשב כיום לאחד האדריכלים והמעצבים הבולטים ביותר בקנדה, ובזכות עבודותיו היוצאות דופן והחדשניות הוא רכש לעצמו גם שם עולמי. ארבל זכה ביותר מ-30 פרסים חשובים וזה הרבה בהתחשב בגילו הצעיר. עבודתיו מוצגות במוסדות האמנות החשובים ביותר בעולם בהם בניו יורק, לונדון ומילאנו. ויש לו לקוחות בכל קצוות העולם כולל מהמזרח הרחוק.
בעצם ארבל במשולב מעצב תעשייתי, מעצב תאורה ואדריכל בתים. ולמרבית ההפתעה הוא פועל בוונקובר, שנחשבת לעיר שרחוקה מעיצוב, קריאטיביות ואמנות. “ממש מדבר תרבותי כאן ואתה בוודאי נחשב לחלוץ”, אני אומר, בראשית הפגישה עימו בסטודיו הגדול שלו, שממוקם בקומה שישית במבנה תעשייתי צבוע לבן, ומלא חללים משונים שלא נגמרים. ארבל: “אכן זה מדבר ולאף אחד כאן לא אכפת מאמנות ועיצוב. למרות הכל זו עיר יפה ורגועה ומשפחתי כאן ולכן זה ביתי”.
ארבל עבר עם הוריו ואחותו מירושלים לוונקובר בגיל 13. המשפחה חילונית ולהורים נמאס מתהליך ההתחרדות והחיים במתח בישראל. הוא מסביר כי דווקא בוונקובר יכל היה ליצור דברים חדשים למרות שאין כאן קהילת יוצרים, ואין לקוחות שעבודותיו יעניינו אותם. “לא היה ממי ללמוד כאן, לא ללכת עם זרם מסויים או להתנגד לו. התחלתי מאפס וזה אילץ אותי לחפש חדשנות תוך ביצוע מחקר מקיף ללא השפעה מהסביבה. העסק שהקמנו כאן הוא הקהילה היוצרת שלנו ואחד מפרה את השני”.
לאחר שסיים אדריכלות באוניברסיטת ווטרלו ורכש ניסיון מעשי בברצלונה, חזר לוונקובר ועבד כשכיר בשני משרדי ארדריכלים, ב-2005 פתח בקריירה עצמאית. אחד מסיפורי ההצלחה הראשונים שלו הוא כיסא מיוחד שעיצב. ארבל טוען שהפרוייקט נכשל אך תלוי מי שואלים. הוא יצר רק 20 כיסאות כי נגמר לו הכסף והם נחטפו על ידי אספנים שונים. שני כיסאות מוצגים קבוע במוזיאון אטצ’נום בשיקגו ובגלריה לאמנות של ונקובר. ארבל: “עוד כשכיר בשעות הפנאי התחלתי להשתעשע בניסיונות בחומרים שונים בהם ניפוח זכוכית”. הוא מראה לי יצירות שנולדו מהנסיונות שלו, מחזיק בגופי תאורה משונים ויפים ומלטף אותם כמו ילד שעבר ממשחקי לוגו, למשחקי יצירה ועיצוב, תוך שהוא מקבל השראה מהחומרים עימם הוא עובד. כך החל המסע הארוך והמעניין שלו לעיצוב גופי תאורה חדשניים. ב-2005 נולדה החברה לעיצוב ‘בוצ’י’ בה הוא שותף עם היזם רנדי בישוף’, שאחראי על הצד הפיננסי, שהביאה לעיצובי התאורה, הרהיטים ומוצרים נוספים של ארבל – הכרה בינלאומית והצלחה מסחרית. “אצלנו התהליך מתחיל מהאיכויות הפנימות של החומרים ולא מהרעיון. קודם כל אנו מבצעים ניסיונות כימיים ומכניים במוצרים שכמחציתם אגב נכשלים. ולאחר מכן מגיע שלב העיצוב והפיסול, ובסוף היישום הטכנולוגי. כך שאנו שולטים בכל התהליך מתחילתו ועד סופו. כמעט את כל המכונות הייצור בנינו בעצמנו. וזאת בניגוד למעצבים אחרים שמשאירים את היצור לגופים אחרים”. בוצ’י שמוצריה נחשבים לאיכותיים ויקרים נמכרים בכל העולם. בחברה מועסקים כ-40 עובדים ויש לה סניפים בלונדון וברלין.
ארבל שהושפע מאוד מהבאוהאוס הגרמני יודע שבתל אביב יש הרבה בתים בסגנון זה. במקביל לעבודתו בבוצ’י הוא מעצב בתים, ולדבריו שני התחומים דווקא משתלבים זה בזה ותורמים זה לזה. הפרסים לא מעניינים אותו ולעומתם חשובים לו ההישגים. בהם: מייצג תאורה מרשים בגובה 30 מטר, שכולל סבך של עשרות חוטים ומנורות צבעוניות, שהוצב באולם הכניסה למוזיאון וקיטוריה ואלברט בלונדון. מייצג תאורה שנראה חללי ומורכב מסט מנורות בשלל צבעים וגדלים שמוקם בכניסה למרכז לעיצוב לומינייאר בשיקגו (ארבל נתבקש גם לקיים הרצאה בשיקגו). ובית יחודי בצורת משולש שבנוי על 100 קורות ענקיות מעץ, שעיצב לא הרחק מכאן – בעיר סרי, וזיכה אותו ‘בפרס רון תום להישגי תכנון מוקדמים’. ארבל עיצב גם את המדליות לאולימפיאדת החורף ונקובר 2010.
לסיום אני שואל מתי ביקר בישראל והאם ירצה לעבוד בה?. ארבל: “לפני כשש שנים ביקרתי בארץ. ישראל מאוד מעניינית מבחינת עיצוב, אדריכלות וקריאטיביות. ובצלאל נחשב למוסד ברמה גבוהה מאוד. אולי יום אחד אעצב בארץ בית בגלל הרגשה סנטימנטלית שלי ולא דווקא מהבחינה מקצועית”.