Beyond design and structure

by Gili Merin | 10.08.15


Long before the success of institutions like Mayumana and Shaffa Bar, the pioneering architects Kisselov-Kaye, realized the enormous potential hidden in the city of Jaffa. Suspended between embedded nostalgia and inevitable progress, the “neglected stepdaughter of Tel Aviv” was set as their collective, creative vision over 35 years ago. Since then, they transformed Jaffa’s diverse urban fabric, refurbished the now-famous flea market, and revived the city from its imminent state of decay.

I had the pleasure of  interviewing two of the three generations of this incredible studio, which continues to grow within and around Jaffa, persistently enriching our multi-dimensional surroundings. As they expand their repertoire with award-winning buildings, both generations continue to teach at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem and the faculty of architecture at the Tel Aviv University, claiming that “Our job as architects is to generate and accompany a deep move beyond the design of a structure.״


GM: Tell us about the beginning of Kisselov – Kaye. When and why did you start?

We founded the Atelier in 1979 together with Teddy Kisselov – Thea and Liora’s father, who was a remarkable architect. Teddy waited patiently, withholding his intent and relieving us from pressure; it allowed us to travel around the globe – learn and absorb – only to decide to return home and start the family atelier together. And Why? To amend the world together, of course!


GM: Your office in Jaffa –  how long have you been there? How has the city changed around it?

The office has been in Jaffa since 1979, when we joined the studio of the painter Sofia Kisselov – wife of Teddy Kisselov – who has been there since 1967. Over the years Jaffa has undergone a process of changing, from the neglected stepdaughter of Tel Aviv to the desirable part of town it is today. Naturally, this process has its share of advantages and disadvantages, and, luckily for us, the atelier took part in the planning and execution of this process, transforming the urban fabric that surrounds us.

This project began at the end of the 1980’s, when we formed a group of friends around a mutual desire to locate a space  for a shared urban home. We found ourselves living in Rabi Hanina Street – near the flea market – where we realised our dream of ​​an urban community in Jaffa. The location was chosen for its anonymity: a street of medium-sized dimensions with no particular view, surrounded by schools, a cemetery and the flea market – an incredibly unpopular venue at the time. There were no roads, dwelling spaces were abandoned and sealed, and there were only five families – Jews and Arabs – who lived there.


The process began as a gradual, architectural strategy of “in-fill” – constructing one building after another – each completed with much care and attention. This social action was derived from our vision, emphasizing the importance of the existing textures – people, infrastructure, buildings – as the starting point for any architectural intervention.

In contrast to the closed residential compounds increasingly being built in these parts, appropriating large sections of the public space through gates and walls, we chose to create an open and diverse architectural platform that will allow the formation of an urban community.

A significant change also occurred in the flea market where we planned the urban renewal. When we received the project, it has been deteriorating both physically and financially so the renewal process was gentle – maintaining the existing and planning with respect to the spirit of the market. It was about taking actions of non-doing, (which is very difficult for architects) like keeping the occasional vendors, respecting the ugly and strengthening the original feeling of the market.

We thought there was a need to operate urban regulations so that the prices will not rise, and the characteristics and the people who inhabited the market will remain. Our job as architects was to generate and accompany a deep transition beyond the design of a structure, which forced us to be part of the full spectrum of community life, urban densification and public space.


GM: Tell us about your space in Jaffa. What is it like? what do you like about it most?

Teddy Kisselov designed the office, Olesh, Liora and Thea built it themselves; The inner levels, the floating rafts and the wooden construction (The lower space of the studio is still called ‘the Carpentry’).

In recent years, the younger generation brought in new energies and objects which once again transformed the venue. The Atelier itself is an open space, consisting of three storeys with additional intermediate levels. Everything is open, creating a mixture of old and modern, heavy and light; concrete and stone on the one hand, and wood, cables and nets on the other. What we like about it most is that the space encourages teamwork and allows for brainstorming to happen… sadness and laughter all together, ideas and emotions, ups and downs – this space makes it all possible.


GM: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge when designing in Jaffa and Tel Aviv?

We see the biggest challenge in increasing city density from within. We shouldn’t continue building in new places as land is a resource we are running out of. Another complicated and intriguing aspect of this challenge is to maintain and enable planning for a living urban texture in Tel Aviv, for an inclusive heterogeneous society. This includes, of course, the integration of affordable housing for young people, which are the spirit of the city, as well as public housing for locals, foreigners and immigrants alike.

Social heterogeneity of form, intensity, diversity and the ability to change are the core principles of a real city.


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

There are too many luxury towers, and preserved buildings with apartments for the wealthy. There is a need for affordable housing, appropriate long term housing with regulated rent, public housing, re-use of city spaces, open and closed. The city is lacking the ability to embrace and include immigrants and foreign workers, and enable different people to take part in the city as in every other metropolitan, allowing foreign cultures to enrich the local culture.


GM: A cultural project like that is your CCA building, (one of my personal favourites in the city’s recent construction) Can you tell us about its design process? are you happy with the outcome?

In the process of planning the Kalisher (CCA) building there were two main aspects that were essential to us: The location and the idea of a public space. We managed to convince the donor, Israel Polack and the Tel Aviv Foundation for development, that the location for such a project should be in the south of the city, in a neglected area next to Ha’Carmel Market –  a notion that at the time was difficult for them to accept. The second essential thing that we did together with landscape architect Yael Moria from ‘Moria-Sekely’ was to dismantle the fences around the buildings, making it a public space again and returning it to the city so passers-by can cross through with their market baskets, take a shortcut etc.

As for the architectural aspects, we used an aesthetic language, materials and colors which resonate the specific urban texture where the CCA is located: affected by the market, the colors and the many piles that are typical to it.

Indeed, we are happy with the result. The project was and still is a point of energy within the south of the city, influencing urban processes in a growing radius. We see the urban process as successful; the ability of the building to accommodate changing programs, from an art academy and a theater school, to a center for contemporary art and studios for artists, it has proven to us that the building is able to reuse itself and adapt to changes through time.


GM: What about other buildings – do you have a favourite one in the city?

Well, since two generations of architects were involved in this interview, we have five different answers: 33 Ben Gurion Boulevard: We like it not only because of the international style but also because it was designed by Dov Karmi. It has a very gentle aesthetics to it, it’s still innovative, contextual and sensitive to the climate, the trees, the citizens and the city. Other buildings are the Silo (flour mill) on Ben-Zvi Boulevard; the entire Emanuel Haromi Street – because of the layers of buildings that are so ‘Tel Avivan’ and especially the wonderful Banyan trees there; Dizengoff Center; ‘Baley Hamelacha’ area and several buildings along Kibbutz Galuyot street that are wonderfully ugly buildings: they are cheap and enable change – therefore function as containers in – and of – the city.


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