Architecture

Telavivian Architects: Daniel Zarhy / Studio PEZ

by Gili Merin | 16.09.14

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“It is a bit schizophrenic” says architect Daniel Zarhy when asked about designing in Tel Aviv. After collaborating with OMA/Rem Koolhaas in Rotterdam and Herzog & De Meuron in Basel, he established his practice, Studio Pez, in Tel Aviv. Only three years old, PEZ has won numerous international design competitions, including the recently announced Jerusalem Court House competition.

Read the full interview with Daniel, including photos by Sarale Gur-Lavy, below.

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GM: We begin with Studio PEZ – when and why did you start your practice?

DZ: We (Pedro Peña and myself) established StudioPEZ (Peña e Zarhy) late 2011 in Basel, Switzerland. After working together for Herzog&DeMeuron we’ve realized that we share the same architectural passion and vision, and started working on competitions together and won the first two we did! The first was part of EUROPAN and it was for the transformation of a 60’s building in the Technical University of Eindhoven (Holland) into student accommodation. The second was an ideas competition for a new opera house in Busan, South Korea. For us, this was (and still is) a proof that the connection between us works, so we’ve decided to open a studio together. The rest is (contemporary) history…

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GM: Tell us about your office in Tel Aviv – what is the space like? what do you like about it most?

DZ: The studio is located at the building where the historic office of Rechter-Zarhy-Peri used to be and where now, in addition to our studio, the Zarhy Architects office is located. In 2009 the building was completely renovated, so in a sense it has a lot of history and at the same time offers a “clean” start. The studio is very small and messy, I like the fact that it feels as a workshop – all the models materials are very close, you can hang things on the walls without feeling you should be careful. Since it is located in the ground floor, you can watch the passers-by and I love it when we go out to take pictures of a model and people get engaged and start a conversation with us.

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GM: That being said, what is your favorite building in Tel Aviv?

DZ:My favorite building in Tel Aviv is not really a building, but rather a combination of a garden and a building – Gan Yaakov that was designed by Avraham Karavan (landscape) and Yaakov Rechter. I like the fact that it’s neither a garden nor a building, that you can go up the stairs and see the trees from a different perspective, that it doesn’t “surrender” to you all at once but you gradually discover it, that it’s generous and offers many different choices, that it “merely” connects the buildings surrounding it and that it is gentle yet very present, open but protecting, artificial but still natural.

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GM: What do you see as the biggest challenge about designing in Tel Aviv?

DZ:I think that the city is a bit schizophrenic – on one hand it’s very similar to a European city (it was built by European immigrants after all), but on the other hand it is clearly Middle Eastern. I think that the biggest challenge is to find this combination in architecture, not only in terms of style but also in the way of thinking. Let me give you an example – when you visit Sao Paolo you quickly realize that there is something very “Brazilian” in the architecture and the urban development, Brazilian modernism for instance. What can we define a Tel-Avivian architecture or urban way of thinking? I still don’t have answers for that.

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GM: Lastly, What do you think the city is lacking in terms of architecture? in what subjects is it excessive?

DZ: It is a difficult question. I think the city is lacking history, and since this is the case it constantly reinvents its own history or rather histories. It is both its weakness and strength. As it is the incarnation of the modernist dream, it was (allegedly) the perfect tabula rasa, without identity and without history. It is an advantage as it can constantly reinvent itself, it is a “Generic city” liberated from the “straightjacket of identity” as Koolhaas described it. On the other hand, and this is what is excessive I think, the city strangely enough re-imagines histories that are almost fictional, it adapts manifestos that are forcing an identity, for example, the Bauhaus, from being despised it became a “style” of the mainstream… Since it does not have a history, it is very susceptible to fashions. On a positive note, I think that in its elusive identity lies its charm, as it allows different people to see different things in it.

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Working alongside Daniel in the photos above is architect Carmel Avidani, of the Ecole Spécial d’architecture in Paris and the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. “It’s fun to work at a place where ‘low-tech’ methods are still used” says Carmel, who joined PEZ in the beginning of 2014: “I get to try things hands-on, and get a little (or a lot, in my case) dirty from glue and paint”.

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Every week the blog will feature a post covering a different architect or architectural practice, consisting of a brief interview and a series of photographs. If you are a contemporary Telavivian architect and wish to be featured on the blog, e-mail gili.merin@telavivian.com

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