The catalogue documents the first ten exhibitions staged during 2001-2007 at the Architect’s House Gallery in Jaffa, home of the Israel Association of United Architects, as part of the series “Local.”
The exhibition series “Local” and the catalogue documenting it set out to formulate a new local discourse, introducing an alternative to the perception of “localism” in Israeli architecture.
The perception of localism strives for assimilation in the place by conceiving of a formal architectural language in tune with the physical and cultural conditions unique of the place, merging “past and future,” “east and west.” Reference to the place in the history of Israeli architecture took different styles and occurred in different sites. One form of localism turned to Palestinian construction—in itself a hybridization of various traditions—and the “Arab village” as a source of inspiration; another, later form was Mediterranean architecture—a version of localism based on a double negation of the Orient: negation of both the threatening Arab Middle East and the East European Diaspora.
Visually speaking, local architecture in Israel was founded on a limited formal vocabulary and a restricted repertoire of building materials considered authentic: arched openings, shading devices, stonework, etc., and on a built texture underlain by an array of streets, squares, shaded alleys, inner courtyards. To wit: the architectural practice of the localist school translated questions of identity into design which stresses formal and stylistic preoccupation, at the same time avoiding the political context of these architectural forms. Thus, for example, while the Palestinian population was pushed to the margins, Arab architecture—as distinct from it—was granted a unique status in Israeli architecture as an alternative or a source of inspiration for modern architecture.
As an alternative to the perception of localism in Israeli architecture, “Local” reintroduces the national, ethnic, and class contexts to the discussion of architecture primarily by giving voice and representation to the dwellers and users of architecture who have been omitted from the traditional formal discussion of architectural discourse.
Architecture between Art and Society
Operating within the field of architecture, “Local” mediates between architecture and the visual arts, and between architecture and the social sciences; a double mediation in terms of content (combining social and architectural concerns) and form (combining means of display and objects from the art world into architectural exhibitions). In both respects the mediation between disciplines and media produces an added value, primarily for architectural research, and consequently for the aforementioned fields as well.
The social sciences in Israel frequently address the power relations between Jews and Arabs, Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews, rich and poor. Influenced by social research, the exhibition “Separation” explored these issues in space, arguing that spatial and physical demarcation intersects different types of social power relations.
Many of the exhibitions featured photography. The participating photographers document the constantly evolving Israeli space, and their work in “Local” belongs to critical photography thriving in Israel in the past decade. The architectural context which the series furnished the photographs presented the ostensibly neutral space as the outcome of planning, lending the works a critical edge and an added contextual layer.
“Local” thus scrutinizes the ways in which architecture shapes reality and reproduces power relations, thereby influencing the daily life of its users. As opposed to these manifestations of the power of architecture, however, several exhibitions exposed architecture’s subordination to the centers of power in society. Architecture was shown to serve market forces and powerful groups or government institutions, thus emphasizing its weakness and lack of autonomy.
The Art Gallery as a Critical Space
Theoretical processes in the 1970s and 1980s expanded the discussion of culture, underscoring the power relations associated with it as well as factors such as cultural divergence, largely contributing to the study of society and culture in Israel as well as to a postmodern and postcolonial transition in the research of Israeli architecture.
“Local” joined the social discussion of architecture; in many respects, it even spearheaded that shift. At the same time, and despite the strengthening of the political current in architectural research, the majority of architects still did not regard the ethical discourse as fundamental to architectural practice, and therefore, precisely since “Local” prefers discussion of the ethical dimension over presentation of the aesthetic facet of architecture, it is noteworthy that the series was featured in the home of the Israel Association of United Architects and that it appealed directly to an audience not necessarily convinced of the architect’s social role.