Transforming A Masterpiece: The Asia Houseby Gili Merin | 24.09.15
In a special interview for TELAVIVIAN, 85-years old Mordechai (Moti) Ben Chorin shares his vision and inspiration for the unique Asia House, his desire to build only in Israel in order to stay close to his “children”, and the imminent addition (shown here in a never-before published render) of a luxury tower on top of his singular masterpiece.
Built in 1979, The Asia House was then – and is still today – a bold and outstanding addition to the landscape of Tel Aviv. Standing at the corner of Weizmann St. and Shaul HaMelech Blvd. , the seven-story, white-cladded curvilinear structure remains relatively hidden from the eyes of tourists and architecture enthusiasts – who are attracted, naturally, to the abundance of international style buildings commonly known as “Bauhaus” – what the “White City” is so famous for.
The building’s soft form derives from its proximity to the beach and the desire to translate the sea into physical form: “A sea-front city deserves a wavy building” says the architect, and indeed, the Asia House was a remarkable unfamiliar addition to the then-dominantly brutalist style rising in Tel Aviv. (such as the adjacent Tel Aviv Museum). Inside, a 1.5m module dictates the size of the spaces, home to some European delegates such as the Swedish and Italian embassies, as well as the German Goethe institute.
Born in Petach Tikvah, Ben Chorin studied at the Technion where he graduated in 1956. Since then, he has been responsible for some of the architectural icons in Tel Aviv like the distinguished geometrical ‘Dizengoff tower’ and the majestically brutalist ‘Jabotinsky House’. He prefers to build only in Israel in order to keep a “close eye” on these “children” – the three-dimensional extensions of his mind scattered around the city – he explains: “I like to be able to pass by them, touch them and feel their growth.”
Growth – or imminent change? As the Asia House began to deteriorate, with no preservation listing declared, it now faces complete transformation: it was recently purchased by businessman and multimillionaire Alfred Akirov, who intends to add a 25-story hotel on top of the iconic structure. Luckily, Moti himself, at 85, was hired for the job. “It is the right thing to do – not only architecturally, but also psychologically” he states. “I knew that if it wouldn’t be me, the entire building would be completely destroyed.”
With such a distinguished building, Moti’s additional design could have gone in one of two ways: Either adding something completely different, or trying to blend the new with the old. Moti opted for the difficult choice – attempting to create a tower which resembles, as much as possible, the visual and aesthetic language of the original, and create a seamless composition of the two: “I have a feeling” he says, “and I sure hope I am not wrong – that this was the best possible addition to the building. I truly think I have found the right compromise between destroying and preserving. Hopefully, when this building is done, it would stand as a landmark to how vertical can be added to the horizontal and not only refraining from harming it – but also making it better.”
The image above depicts the planned tower on top and of the new Asia House, provided by the architect Moti Ben Chorin. All other photographs are by Gili Merin.