August 1, 2019
Author: Dan Hendel
Privatization has trampled on the quality of public buildings in Israel for years, so it is impressive to see that the first public hospital built in Israel in 40 years managed to be both efficient and architecturally pleasing
The architectural fate of most new public buildings in Israel was predestined to be bleak. The combination of a multitude of impossible regulations, municipal bureaucracy and a dilapidated public sector suffering from chronically poor budgets leads nine out of ten such buildings to the architecture of continuous compromise. Behind the scenes, the state’s exit from public construction led to the rise of large project management companies that tend to emphasize the economic aspects of the project, which, in turn, contributes to diminished importance of the architectural quality.
In short, not that it surprises anyone, privatization did not do well in this case – not with the public and not in the Israeli construction environment. Against this backdrop, it is impressive to see a public building that nevertheless manages to raise its head above the water and be both efficient and architecturally bright. Such is the Ashdod Assuta hospital planned by Davida Maculo and Marcelo Berstovsky, in cooperation with Studio Radiali & Co.
Not that it was easy. Ashdod, a region with half a million residents, has been without an emergency room for nearly fifty years. Various initiatives for the construction of a hospital were unsuccessful, leaving behind abandoned structures and a lot of bitterness. There was even a designated law from 2002, circulated by a pseudo cartel of the Ministry of Finance and hospital directors that, under various pretexts, tried to prevent the establishment of a new hospital. The complex tender was issued in an excruciatingly slow process, Assuta won, and then decided to relinquish its initial rights to allocate 25 percent of its activities to “Sharap” (private medical service) in exchange for grants of hundreds of millions of shekels from the state. This made the project a completely public hospital, the first built from scratch In Israel in over forty years.
This section highlights an empty site in the southeastern part of Ashdod, near dunes that give the hospital a somewhat pioneering touch. The location enables the project to expand over time in one unified plan. To understand how unusual this is, remember that the largest hospitals in Israel are exactly the opposite. They were mostly built In the first decades of the state, and even if designed from the start with some kind of systematic logic, they are more reminiscent today of the maze of buildings that have been added over the years as a result of medical developments and specialties, and at the will of donors and hospital directors who prefer new buildings over renovations and additions to existing buildings.
Remember that time you tried to get from the parking lot to the outpatient or maternity ward taking numerous elevators, passing empty, unused space, crossing bridges along the way, including the classic mistake of making a wrong turn that added at least five minutes to the trek? In this sense, Assuta Ashdod is similar to smaller hospitals like Carmel Hospital in Haifa, an impressive building of the architectural firm Rechter-Zarchi-Pery that somehow managed to successfully maintain its unique look for forty years.
My guess is that the second reason for the clear design of the building is its Swiss architect, Macaulo, whose office is in Lugano. Macaulo, together with Berstovsky, a specialist in planning complex medical structures and who worked with Assuta on its private hospital in Kiryat Atidim in Tel Aviv, defined the structure of the hospital in Ashdod as composed of two buildings, the first primarily with outpatient clinics and institutes, and the second, larger building housing the various hospitalization departments.
The main northern entrance opens onto a brightly lit and empty entry hall from which it is possible to enter both buildings. The structures themselves are shaped like prisms with sharp corners, and on the southern exterior of the project, resemble three arms covered in light stone. So far it sounds simple, but in the Israeli context, keeping this simple concept is not a simple task at all.
In Switzerland, which can be defined as the homeland of boxlike buildings of architectural intricacies, it seems that some element of this style permeated the architectural details of the building in Ashdod, where all the corners seem calculated, with difficult meeting points elegantly executed between stone and gray-sandy aluminum rods that cover entire facades of the hospital building.
Elsewhere in the building, the architecture vibrates with variations on the prism, with sealing part of the facade on the ground floor to enable a shaded window under a sharp corner. Even the entry element of the project, usually the first victim of metaphors and bad taste, is performed in concrete with a balanced lightness that expands our heart as if we had popped over to Europe and not to a hospital in the sixth largest city in Israel.
The interior of the departments, laden with technical medical demands succeeds in maintaining, in most cases, these requirements and the unusual investment in quality is evident. For example, the ceilings covering all the systems – lighting, air conditioning, smoke detectors and more – are arranged against a dark gray background instead of inexpensive acoustic panels. Somebody planned it and made sure that it looked planned.
Each floor is defined by a different Israeli flower. Less my taste, but I’m told that it connects well with the landscape outside.
Now a word about the landscape design of the Barkan-Elhayani firm. Although the landscape design’s rounded geometry is distinctly different from that of the buildings’, the smart plan to refreshingly combine functionality with camouflage of the hospital’s technical structures creates a free feeling environment with lush natural growth on the southern side.
Beyond that, despite there being a few more standard elements that slightly detract from the overall impression, it seems that the plan was executed joyfully with a desire to experiment with new ideas – two things that are particularly rare here and take on new importance considering that this is a hospital and not a Tel Aviv port.
So what do we have here? A public building, not in Tel Aviv, that, despite the complex program, succeeds in presenting architectural quality alongside professional execution. So it is possible. We just need to find the people who can make it happen.
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