Dr. Ron Fuchs

The Spirit of Time vs. the Spirit of Place. Dilemmas of Modernism in Mandate Palestine and Israel

The introduction of modernism into new landscapes posed architects with a series of dilemmas. Firstly, as modernism professed to be an ethical stance, not merely a style, opting for modernist architecture would signify association with modernity in a general sense. Siding with modernity would in any particular locality translate into specific ethical choices and concrete political preferences. At the same time, practicing modernism in "foreign" landscapes compelled architects to acknowledge and accommodate local context, even though modernism generally cared little for the particularities of place. Thus, the task of a modernist architect — in fact, of any architect anywhere — would be to strike a balance not only between innovation and tradition, but also between the indigenous and the universal or international. His position in regard to these tensions would then determine his attitudes towards prevalent architectural ideologies and approaches such as historicism, traditionalism, or regionalism. And finally, it would guide him in selecting and deploying visual references to local past and indigenous landscapes and icons of the international and the contemporary. The stylistic formula that he would thus devise may often be read as a deliberate comment on the nature of a country and on the future he wished for it.

Ever since the late 19th century, when the impact of the Industrial Revolution was first felt in Ottoman Palestine, the two axes of modernity and place were a preoccupation in architectural discourse in Mandate Palestine, remaining so in contemporary Israeli debate. In fact, these two axes could serve as a grid by which to construct a general narrative of the architectural history of modern Palestine/Israel.

This paper examines a number of examples of modern architecture ranging from Erich Mendelsohn to post-1948 Israeli architecture, attempting to analyse the aesthetic strategies employed and to read them as comments on the shifting positions regarding the dilemmas of modernity and place in the country.

Dr. Ron Fuchs is an architectural historian and a senior lecturer at the Art History Department, University of Haifa. He also teaches in a number of architectural schools in Israel, including the Technion. Ron Fuchs is a graduate of the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, where he also received his Ph.D. in 1992.

His research addresses general issues of architectural history of the Holy Land, vernacular architecture, colonial architecture, conservation and modern architectural historiography.

Recent publications: "Sites of Memory in the Holy Land: the Design of the British War Cemeteries in Mandate Palestine", Journal of Historical Geography 30, 2004; "William Harvey, architecte, restaurateur et chercheur en Palestine 1908–1938", in: D. Trimbur, R. Aaronsohn (eds.): De Balfour à Ben Gourion, les puissances européennes de la Palestine, 1917–1948, 2008; "Myth, History and Conservation in Tel Aviv", in: D. van den Heuvel et al. (eds.): The Challenge of Change. Dealing with the Legacy of the Modern Movement, 2008 (with M. Epstein-Pliouchtch); "Wittkower and 'The Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism'", Introduction to the Hebrew translation of Wittkower's book, 2010.