The Sixth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2004
Berkeley Prize 2004

Barak Levy

The Right Path

During my summer school vacation, when I was a teenage boy, my sister and I went one night to my Father's office in south Tel-Aviv. When we got there, we opened the door and found a thin woman in her early twenties and her dog, lying down on a blanket in a side room of the office. She wasn't one of the workers, and she didn't seem to be a thief that broke into the office - on the contrary: she looked like she was using the office as a place to sleep at night, while no one was using it. At the time, she looked as though she belonged to a "shadow world" that had existed without my knowing of it. More importantly, I was asking myself whether this woman and I really lived in parallel worlds that could only meet in odd circumstances such as these.

Industrial capitalism in the modern world has deepened the social gap while increasing segregation within the modern cities. This long process hindered the underclass groups, as in Mike Davis's example of Los Angeles: "Today's upscale, pseudo-public spaces: sumptuary malls, office centers, culture acropolises, and so on, are full of invisible signs warning off the underclass 'Other'. Although architectural critics are usually oblivious to how the built environment contributes to segregation, pariah groups - whether poor Latino families, young Black men, or elderly homeless white females - read the meaning immediately."

These urban situations, such as the one I have described before, are not rare in the Israeli Business capital. In this essay I will use Tel-Aviv as a basis for exploring them, due to its potential of making a more supportive environment for the displaced.

Urban Stories in Tel-Aviv:

Walking through the city's streets, especially in the southern parts, displays a variety of situations: The intrusion of civic facilities, such as the central bus station, into the southern neighborhoods containing low rise residential buildings has its consequences. People are living next to access roads that serve the bus transportation system. Residents do their shopping in the flea market, minutes away from polluting industries. The streets are neglected and the plaster covering the exterior walls is peeling off. Many of the homeless people drift about these parts looking for food leftovers and seeking abandoned buildings in which to sleep at night.

In the northern part, a different action has also led to urban consequences. The rounded Dizengof square was designed as part of the international style in the early 30's, and intended as a civic place for the residents, but after it was later raised from the ground, allowing the cars go beneath it, more and more groups began coming there to collect money. These people expect compassion from the people who hang out at that leisure area. When meeting these poor people, you easily feel bad for them, because you comprehend them as a phenomenon. If we want to make social changes, we must bring together the daily lives of the social extremes.

Until recently, this type of meeting between different social classes occurred in the "Kikar Hamedina": in response to the recent economic depression in the country, several groups from the under classes invaded this circular square, which is surrounded by luxurious building apartments. Due to this social protest, the square was renamed "The Bread Square", bringing the social issue to the newspapers' headlines. Their evacuation by the authorities from the square highlighted the social gaps between the classes, thus evoking social issues, such as private and civic property, social priorities and moral obligation towards the lower classes.

Different Patterns in Tel-Aviv:

These examples show that urban space is a material wherein the accelerated social process between people is in motion. Tel-Aviv is composed of different zones: commercial, residential or industrial areas that overlap each other at the edge - thus blurring the boundaries between the divided spaces, allowing the social development to blossom within its own rules.

Mapping all the architectural connections between the classes of society throughout Tel-Aviv would easily identify the urban patterns that dictate our daily lives. By doing this, architects can usually define the "negative" pattern. These meaningless abandoned houses, neglected facilities, and open spaces, ought to be considered the "positive" path, which will have the ability to help homeless people. The voids that are transparent to our eyes need to become parallel organisms with their own meaning.

Homelessness and the Local Society:

Before discussing the homeless within contemporary society, we must understand who comprises this unique group. First, the displaced are not a homogeneous group. They are a mixed group of individuals who have dropped out due to personal reasons and social conditions. In Tel-Aviv they can be described in a spectrum of levels: the hard and difficult grain of people who suffer from mental diseases or are addicted to narcotics; they are part of the urban scenery, wearing smelly and old clothing, looking for trash cans at the dumpsters - putting a mirror to the face of society. Others are not always seen on the street. They are looking for places and basic resources out of our sight: in the backyards and abandoned buildings - those voids that are hidden within the city's fabric. Some of them are considered close to modern society. These people make up the "flexible work labor" working in temporary jobs, but they do not have an address: they usually stay in hostels and public shelters, or at a friend's house.

A lot of government officials in the world consider the street people the "leftovers" of society. There are only a limited number of public shelters in the city throughout the southern areas, and they deal with certain groups: old and young, drug addicts and alcoholics, and battered women. These public shelters are the bureaucracy's instrument for handling the displaced as a separate group. Designing a path within the conventional urban system, however, has much more potential to create a new reality that will improve the place of the homeless in society and change their perceived value for other members of society.

Central Business District of Tel-Aviv and its Surroundings:

The blurred boundaries of the overlapped zones, where the business district meets the old industrial areas next to the southern neighborhoods of Neve-Sha'anan and Shapira, are a key element for forging this path in Tel-Aviv. Architects can use this strange un-zoned area in order to make it an urban social stimulus, using the socio-economical conditions and the physical situations that can be found there.

Beginning near the new government region in the north, an enclosed triangular strip stretches alongside the Ayalon main highway. At the centre, a set of corporate office buildings, containing large exhibition halls for automobile companies at ground level, stands a long the main city road, hiding an interstitial area of motor industries: auto repair garages and spare parts workshops, waiting to be replaced by the commercial skyscrapers. There is an intriguing image of a high luxurious financial office buildings standing next to low prefabricated garages, while the spilled engine oil is painting the ground in a different color. As we go down the strip, we see more old printing houses, manufacturing factories and various workshops. These are integrated at the southern part of this strip into a poor residential area, which is characterized by old low-rise houses, narrow alleys and massive transportation.

The central business district of Tel-Aviv is a hybrid version of financial services and governmental offices along with the industrial manufacturing zones, bordering the poor neighborhoods. Almost two thirds of this district is based on a cycle of day life / nightlife. During work hours, the financial working classes occupy the offices, the traffic is booming and the workshops are busy. Main traffic roads are jammed with cars and buses, next to public pedestrian sidewalks shaded by tall curtain-wall buildings. At night, the offices are empty and the wide parking lots are vacant - the only facilities open are notorious members-only clubs and old wedding halls.

Sustainable Frames Within the Business Domain:

These office buildings can better the conditions of the homeless. The financial domain is characterized by the higher sector occupied by facilities such as Banks, firm HQs, financial support services, private practices and civic offices. Architects can reflect about the issues of urban control and property relations in a different way within this domain.

Most of these office buildings sit on a multi-level platform. The city can let the corporations convert or add spaces on this platform, to be utilized as public shelters for the homeless.

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Barak Levy, Technion - Haifa, Israel, Israel
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