Last updated March 13th 2016
“Tel Aviv lacks contemporary architecture which could be reached by treating every new public building as an opportunity to introduce cutting edge architectural design into the city.” Say architects Els Verbakel and Elie Derman, founding partners of Derman Verbakel Architecture. “Despite this,” they add, “Tel Aviv is our favorite city, and after living in quite a few cities around the world, we are dedicated Tel Avivians.” The duo met as students at Columbia University in New York, and together founded Derman-Verbakel architecture nearly 15 years ago. Since then, the firm has been focusing on research-based projects, ranging from urban and landscape design to housing and interior design, while expanding the scope of applied architecture through exhibitions and public events, such as their project for the Bat Yam Biennale for Landscape Urbanism. Read the full interview with Els and Elie, including pictures of their new studio in Tel Aviv by Sarale Gur Lavy, below.
GM: When and why did you start Derman Verbakel Architecture?
EV+ED: In 2000, as graduate students at Columbia University,New York, we decided to submit a proposal for the Europan 6 competition together. We won second prize and realized our work together is more than the sum of the parts. Since that first collaboration we ran our practice from our Brooklyn office/apartment until we moved to Tel Aviv in 2006. Upon arrival in Tel Aviv we decided to focus on urban design with a strong interest in the role of landscape and ecology in cities and have managed to build an urban design focused practice with a strong connection between design and research.
GM: Tell us about your office in Tel Aviv – what is the space like? What do you like about it most?
EV+ED: We recently moved to our new office space in South Tel Aviv, Kiryat Hamelacha, a colorful mix of light industry, design studios, artists and galleries. The space is a former industrial loft. We renovated it keeping the bare concrete floor exposed, and the space open and flexible. We are sharing part of the space with a gallery of independent photographers and look forward to hosting their exhibitions and mixing our crowds. The location in South Tel Aviv, at the border with Jaffa and Holon is very inspiring, and we love the view toward a very non-Tel Avivian landscape including a Russian church tower hovering over a hill of greenery, which becomes the backset for a beautiful sunset that looks different every day.
GM: What is the biggest challenge about designing in Tel Aviv?
EV+ED: Since our work in Tel Aviv mainly consists of urban design projects developed with Tel Aviv Municipality, we are continuously dealing with core issues of the future of the city. One of these issues is infrastructure and transportation. Currently the city suffers from insufficient pedestrian space, difficult street crossings and traffic lights that place pedestrians at the lowest priority and as a result reaches low levels of walkability in most parts of the city. In addition, future transportation plans continue placing private cars at the forefront and there is a gap between country-wide transportation models that still greatly rely on the use of private cars versus planning efforts at the municipal level that search for transportation alternatives. Another great challenge in Tel Aviv is raising awareness among inhabitants about the importance of public space, maintaining building facades, streets and public squares by developing alternative design strategies, better adjusting spaces to specific needs and developing spaces that are flexible enough for the diverse and constantly changing inhabitants, visitors and passers-by.
GM: What do you think the city is lacking in terms of architecture? In what subjects is it excessive?
The city lacks comfortable shopping streets with storefronts at street level, close to the center, and offering the variety of shops you find today only at shopping malls. Most flagship or large chains, but also exclusive boutiques are concentrated in indoor shopping compounds, while the Tel Avivian weather is much more suitable for outdoor shopping than most cities in Europe. We are raising the importance of shopping strips as a result of our ongoing research on the urban street and our view that these kind of streets serves as the primal urban spine of a good and sustainable city. In addition, the city lacks contemporary architecture which could be reached by treating every new public building as an opportunity to introduce cutting edge architectural design into the city – as in the past during the 30’s throughout the 40’s and then again in the 70’s. The city also lacks a closer connection to the sea. Currently there is a no-man’s land between Tel Aviv and the sea, occupied by hotels, restaurants for tourists only, parking lots and difficult street crossings. Despite this, Tel Aviv is our favorite city and after living in quite a few cities around the world, we are dedicated Tel Avivians. The city is excessive, in a good way, in green spaces and instead of promoting Tel Aviv as the white city, I would argue for promoting it as a garden city, as its conceptual author Patrick Geddes intended. The city offers a wide variety of large and small, exposed and intimate gardens, ideal for anyone at any age. It is also excessive in the amount of constantly changing bars and restaurants per capita and we are continuously exploring new places. This is what keeps the city vibrant and dynamic and at the same time, some of them never change and have become our second living room.
GM: What is your favorite building in Tel Aviv?
Gan Ya’acov (Jacob’s garden); the garden part of the culture hall. The garden is a complex and highly articulated mixture of a three dimensionally built structure and landscape, and it is both cultivated and wild at the same time. It is also serving as a perfect getaway in the midst of the city. In our eyes this place holds the magic formula of Tel Aviv.
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