In Praise of Spatial Solidarityby Gili Merin | 24.11.15
“One must remember that the architect is the emissary of many, as such architects must be constantly presented throughout the overall life cycle of an urban project,” says Addar Secker, a Harvard-educated architect who chose to return to Tel Aviv in 2008 and establish his studio, UR Platform, in a preservation-listed eclectic house in Gan HaHashmal.
In a special interview for Telavivian, he speaks of the challenges his studio is facing against the city’s forces of pure real-estate and growing social gaps: in a city lead by fiscal-driven decisions as greed and make-shift solutions replace true innovative thought, it seems as though Secker and his partner, Yael Saga, as well as the creative group of architects they lead, are a beacon of architectural integrity, fighting for the much-anticipated return of the public benefit from architectural theory into praxis; with time, their newly-introduced models seem less utopian and more practical.
Read the full interview with Secker and beautiful photos by Sarale Gur Lavy, below.
Tell us about your firm, UR PLATFORM. When and why did you start?
In 2008 I returned from a Master’s degree at The Harvard Graduate School of Design, equipped with the know-how, motivation, a working model ready to engage in the of field urban renewal, and a desire to physically construct spatial justice – through a model which marks the role of the architect as a key figure in designing and mobilizing of social and spatial processes.
Upon my return, I rejoined Skorka Architects – a firm established by my brother Roy Secker, Ido Zamir and myself, which specializes in public, retail and office buildings. Three years later I realized that the road to success in this unknown realm of architecture should be taken through a new platform. I established Ur Platform: a place to analyze processes and take into account everything that happens in the city, both human to urban.
The guiding principle of this venture was, first and foremost, the belief that the architect is both the planner and entrepreneur of the public space. He or she should always precedes planning to development, and doesn’t serve the market but rather engage it. One must remember that the architect is the emissary of many, as such architects must be constantly presented throughout the overall life cycle of an urban project. The responsibility of the architect as head of the planning team must be restored, and should be reflected in the architect’s authority and fee.
Ur Platform was officially opened when Arch. Yael Saga joined the process. Four years later, we feel the establishment mode has successfully ended: The projects are maturing nicely, landowners and lot owners are familiar with our model and the ideas we present. One project leads to another, and we are ready for the next phase.
Where is the office located in the city? What is the space like?
Ur Platform was formed in the midst of the city, in Gan Ha’Hashmal (‘The Electricity Garden’) – an area that has yet to define its urban character. Its beauty lies within the many tattered eclectic-style building in the neighborhood, which enable diverse communities to dwell amongst its vast spaces. The office is located in the ground floor of a structure designated for conservation and enjoys all of the benefits of such a space: high ceilings, unique entrance space, wide windows and beautiful hand-crafted flooring tiles. The horizontal, hierarchy-free method of our office creates a flexible and comfortable working atmosphere, enhancing professional and personal cooperation at all levels. The best thing about this space is that it enabled us to form a group of professionals who love to work together.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge about designing in Tel Aviv?
Tel Aviv is an amazing city: colorful, diverse, and rich in communities and culture. It inhabits a fertile ecosystem of various living forms, socializing and occupational possibilities. Above all, the coming years will change the city scape through the light rail and the TAMA 38 National Plan, which will eventually enlarge social gaps. In these aspects, we live in a fascinating time regarding the city’s evolution. Our office is taking an active part in this change and is constantly attempting to modify its trajectories to the benefit of the public. The main challenge we face is convincing developers and landowners to give ‘leftover’ land back to the public, to invest in public spaces, and to create high-standard design specifications throughout the built projects. The idea that a living unit is a whole with its environment – rather than the number of its bedrooms – is sometimes hard to deliver.
Nevertheless one must remember: the real estate market of Tel Aviv-Jaffa is highly advanced, with sophisticated players and relatively low margins of profit. These, more and more on a global scale, create a level of risk that normally prevents speculative or experimental projects. Therefore, and in aim to create a freedom of planning for us as well as the public, we master three essential fields: first, we study, thoroughly and professionally, the political economy of urbanism, paying special attention to processes of finance and taxation; second, we work directly with homeowners (who are landowners) in order to plan the space and buildings together with the direct users; and finally, we promote our plans on a daily basis through City Hall, developers, municipal officials and anyone who agrees to listen. Physical, economic and social plans are political. To this logic, a proper design is a political one.
What do you think the city is lacking in terms of architecture? In what areas is it excessive?
The global tendency of ‘only the big survive’ the city and its leadership has succeeded in preserving the small planner-designer layer in a functional and influential mode. This is the reason that Tel Aviv benefits from an excellent, broad and diverse housing culture, developed by many creators who strive to excel in their ‘god’s little acre.’ Despite it all, the city yearns for small-scale urban planning, or large-scale housing design – the very scale that applies to small but well defined city segments, the scale which exists between the City Building Plan (TABA) and the sole building unit. The Amsterdam Garden in Tel Aviv is a good example: a combination of several residential buildings which create a public space in a form of an urban park holding extreme potential. The multiplicity of ownerships, interests and perspectives, together with cash-flow challenges on behalf of the service providers create a challenge that can only be addressed via a specified strategy that takes in account the various stakeholders in the plan and the time span of the project. This challenge demonstrates the spatial depreciation caused by the local practice of planning fragmentation and the foolishness of the TAMA 38 venture, which tends to create ad-hoc architecture. Designing the limitations rather than redesigning reality is a path which the city must not take: the obvious losers of this situation is the public itself.”
Apart of the Amsterdam Garden, do you have any particularly favourite building in the city?
We don’t have a preferred building. Rather, we fancy places, streets and city segments. The building is no longer a scale measure for an observation or a conclusion. The public space, with the buildings designed and planned is in our focus- and the arena in which the meaningful architecture is taking place. Recently we are dedicating a lot of thought to the “Institution Compound” on Arlozorov St., between Weitzman and Ibn-Gabirol streets. From the Planning, social and political aspects, this compound manifests a unique urban opportunity which, if handled correctly, can generate a brand new, multicultural and diverse urban segment of Tel Aviv. Abundance of public-designated vacant land, together with spectacular office buildings from the 60’s and 70’s, alongside residential and office towers under development, can transform in one drive a disconnected, excluding compound to one of the most interesting and complex city centers in Tel Aviv.”
Photos by Sarale Gur Lavy