The honed white modern architecture that distinguishes the Israeli Pavilion has roots that go back to Europe in the first half of the 20th century, to the Bauhaus school at Dessau in Germany.
Tel Aviv city is representative of this architecture and this “Hill of Springtime,” a poetic descriptive, will be a laboratory of urban experiment for the Middle East. But the reading of this new landscape demands an understanding of the social aims that first led the pavilion’s designer, Zeev Rechter, toward this new architectural language, to give a new identity to this land.
Near the entrance to the pavilion stands a tree, marking a verticality that recalls old uprights that no longer exist. As the first shelter of humankind, the tree reminds us of the prime function of the architect’s profession. Aptly, the gardener Francesco Malleli relates the story and the life of this tree prior to its being cut down, 40 days before. The tree’s age is etched in concentric rings, growth patterns that retrace each season. These evolving layers take us back into the tree’s memory. Only when the tree is cut down can we read its life story; so here, death speaks of a starting point.
There is memory, time, generations. Filiation and transmission. Work and the final product of it all, what remains and what we keep; and life too, besides, which reminds me of the tribute to Rechter written by my grandmother, Efratia, telling us that behind each work there is a man who lives amidst his family, a culture, and a landscape.
ZEEV (VEVA) RECHTER, THE ARCHITECT (1899–1960)
The death of someone we’ve known for a long time is always a great shock, like an earthquake. Death always brings big surprises, and since the death of Zeev Rechter, astonishment has yet to fade. Rechter—the architect of life, he knew how to live; he knew how to build a house; he knew how to love women, children, his grandchildren, his friends; he knew how to walk up and down city streets, he knew how to open up his eyes before nature and people, he knew how to love truth in art, savour a good meal, have a drink, give advice to his friends, bring up his children to follow his way, overlook differences—what didn’t that man know how to do?
If an architect is someone who has a feeling for measurements, for perfect proportion between lines, surfaces, and volumes, then that was Rechter, first of all because he was an architect of the most difficult of all the arts: the art of living. However simple it may seem, he knew how to live. It often happens that you meet people who are talented, prolific, but their life is an absolute mess; when it comes to living, however easy that may appear to be, they just don’t know how. But whoever met Rechter would say: “He’s got plenty of time.” He was never in a hurry. Rechter came to Tel Aviv in the 1920s with his beloved Pola. And here in Tel Aviv they built their house where so many of us went to share a meal and listen to his interminable stories, which opened windows onto a distant world.
I remember once I was hurrying along Ben-Yehuda Street, tired and running late. There was a tall man walking calmly toward me, holding a little girl by the hand. I slowed down: “Efratia, what’s all the rush?” he said to me. I looked at him wide-eyed as I replied: “Days are short and there’s so much to do. … Where are you heading, Veva?” “Oh, I’m going to buy a ribbon for my little Touti, to tie her hair.” I burst out laughing. I couldn’t believe my own ears. Here we all are busy running after success, but this man knows what is really important: to bring up his daughter calmly, with love.
Once I wanted some advice about educating my two boys so I went to see Veva. As usual, he told me a story. “I built two houses for two clients. For years I heard nothing from either of them. One day I met one of them and he was full of gall: The house that I built was no good, the other one—for the next-door neighbour—was much better, there were cracks in the walls, the entrance to the kitchen was no good, and so on. The sort of complaints that people throw in the face of architects all the time. Impossible to satisfy them. Then I met the second client. He was full of compliments: “You built such a beautiful house for me, such a good design—all for me.” I said to myself: two people, the same architect, yet the reactions are diametrically opposed. I decided I would have to go and do some inspecting. When I arrived, this is what I saw: The house of the moaner was dilapidated, no paintwork, no garden, there were cracks all over the place, and it looked like a ruin; but the other fellow had painted his house, planted trees that covered what I wanted to hide, and finished off my work. I didn’t recognize his house: It had grown more beautiful than what I had originally designed.” Veva ended his story with these words: “My dear, our life always depends on what we’ve been given. But we must renew creation morning and evening, water, cultivate, renovate, and redesign over and over again. Only then do we get the fruits.”
Once when he was on his way to Safed he dropped in at our place for a drink. We talked about people who are leaders of their community but who never know the right time to step down. As always, Veva told us a story: Once there was a wise man who was admired and loved by his community.
The wise man had a faithful disciple and one day the wise man told him, “I want you to do something for me. The day will come when I shall be old and my mind feeble. My words will no longer make sense. I beg you to say discreetly to me then: ‘Master, the time has come to leave.’ ”The disciple tried to elude this responsibility, but he ended up promising his master he would fulfill this oath. The master kept on preaching and the people clung to his every word, but life went on and the man grew very old. The wellspring of his wisdom ran dry.
Day after day the disciple wondered whether the time hadn’t come to keep his promise and say to his master, “It’s time for you to go.” One evening, after a sermon that was shameful, he firmed up his courage and taking his master aside began to speak ... but the old man interrupted him, “I know, you want to tell me how eloquent and inspired I was this evening.” “You see,” said Veva, “how weak we become when we grew old. I won’t do that. We should hand over the plumb line to those who are younger than us while we’re still at the top!” At the time, his words shook me, and every time I remember them that feeling comes back threefold. Had he even foreseen his own death?