New Israel Museum

Today I had the opportunity to visit the Israel Museum before its official opening to the public on July 26th. There have been a lot of changes, to the tune of $100 million and these improve the visitor experience immensely.

James Carpenter Design Associates built new entry pavilions at the entrance to the museum that are connected by a covered “route of passage” to a new gallery entrance pavilion which acts as the central hub giving access to the Museum’s 3 collection gallery wings, Archaeology, Judaica and Art, from a main Cardo. Each of the new buildings is basically a glass cube shaded by cast terracotta louvered shade panels that diffuse the bright Mediterranean light and still allow the visitor a view of and interaction with the exterior. With this design the new pavilions resonate with Alfred Mansfeld and Dora Gad’s original modular and modernist design. I am pleased to offer an architecturally focussed tour of the new Israel Museum, including highlights like the Shrine of the Book, that has been called “a milestone in the history of world architecture”.

In the above photo, the view from the Carter Promenade looking back towards the entrance pavillions; below, looking up the hill to how the new gallery pavillion fits into the plan.

Light and glass comprise the firm’s signature architectural focus. The passageway has a wall of glass and is covered by a swatch of translucent glass panels that were designed and made especially for the project. Outside above the passageway a stream of water cascades down the hill over the glass panels. During the day the water and glass let light into the passage which animates the wall with a moving pattern and at night the light illuminating the passageway lights up the water stream above.

Efrat-Kowalsky Architects redesigned the interior gallery spaces of the existing buildings and the way the museum has organized the art and artifacts suggests some interesting connections among objects and between the particular and the universal. The emphasis is on what cultures have in common and there is an attempt to place Jewish history and practices in a broader context.

One example is a very impressive new installation in one large room that focuses on the 5th to 7th Century where part of a restored synagogue is displayed, the facade of the interior of the synagogue with its particular decorations and objects and a beautiful mosaic floor. Next to it a Byzantine church and across the room the michrab or prayer niche from a mosque. Roughly contemporary structures, they are placed in a way that highlights both their distinctiveness and their commonality.

The new galleries and displays are stunning. The museum is a wondrous place to explore.


6 thoughts on “New Israel Museum

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