08 July 2011

Israel's first museum for contemporary design

In 2006 a centenary exhibition celebrated the life and work of Boris Schatz (1867-1932), founder of Bezalel Academy of Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem in 1906 and of the National Bezalel Museum (now Israel Museum). The exhibition was called The Father of Israeli Art, a retrospective exhibition celebrating the life work of Boris Schatz.

The first museum for contemporary design in Israel and one of the existing few anywhere (perhaps 10 or 15 across the world) was designed by Ron Arad Architects. Born in Tel Aviv, Ron Arad graduated from the Jerusalem Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in 1973. The link with Boris Schatz was both irresistible and now complete.

The USA$18 million costs were funded totally by public money and the new museum was carefully located in Holon, a cultural town of 200,000 that is virtually a southern suburb of Tel Aviv. The Museum for Contemporary Design opened in March 2010.

weathered steel ribbons wrap around the two galleries

Arad's split-level museum is made up of a pair of geometric display spaces, together with a studio design space for artists and designers. Outside the building's massive, sinuous curved ribbons cling to the core in flowing  modernity. These sinuous ribbons are made from Corten weathered steel, carefully fulfilling the principles of sculpture, architecture, design and art for the enjoyment of the public. As I am not instantly drawn to very modern architecture, I will look forward to exploring for myself how enjoyable it is.

The architects say that their five sinuous bands of coloured weathered steel actually form a visual key that carries visitors into the building, through it and then out, instantly becoming a string that ties the whole building together. But all good architecture should do that, I would think.

The two simple rectangular galleries are indeed there, once people get through the ribbons. Visitors move through the open-sky Upper Gallery or down the winding staircase, from the lobby to the Lower Gallery. These 750 square meters spaces will showcase exhibitions developed by international design curators. The galleries will have both contemporary and historical pieces from a range of design disciplines, including industrial, fashion, textiles, jewellery.

The museum says it is committed to pioneering a creative arena for the exploration and examination of design principles and interpretations. So the architecture is more than simply exterior walls to house a collection and keep the weather out, exactly as you would expect from an organisation interested in design.

exhibition area: The State of Things

The first exhibition in 2010 that looked very interesting was The State of Things: Design and the 21st Century. It presented 100+ products covering the contemporary practice, consumption and cultural impact of modern international design. The curators worked in 8 categories: New Essentialism, Mutant Remix, Of the Body, Social Anxiety, Beyond the Designer, Super Beauty, Craft Economy and Design Lab, showcasing objects ranging from ordinary household items to modern life-enhancing and life-saving technologies. All of the objects were utterly up to date, through either the materials employed, the concepts conveyed or the uses intended.

Will the external colours and shapes of the Contemporary Design Museum develop the same iconic status as the Guggenheim in New York and the Sydney Opera House? I hope so.


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Helen:
Yes, the question is, as you suggest, whether or not this museum, at least externally, will gain iconic status as a building? We rather think so for the design, and the use of 'Corten' in such a manner, is highly unusual, innovative and very striking. How well it sits in its immediate environment may, of course, be another matter altogether.

Hels said...

Jane and Lance,

interesting that you would notice the museum's immediate environment. I have been in Israel most years since 1966, visiting the family, and I don't think I have ever spent time in Holon.

Yet the city has had a massive rejuvination programme for the last 10 years. Holon municipality says it has already proven itself as a city combining education and culture. Seven museums have been opened and now the 8th museum is breaking into the design area. This new museum will reconfirm Holon as a leading innovative city in another cultural field.

Hermes said...

Love the design. When I worked in manufacturing I always thought Design was neglected.

architect17 said...

Those sinuous ribbons of weathered steal certainly look fluid and inviting from the outside. By the time the first year is up, the architects will know if the design really does carry visitors into the building and through it smoothly, or not.

Hels said...


totally agreed. I did a full undergraduate degree in Fine Arts and know a lot about art history and connoirsseurship, and nothing about design. That seems unbalanced, does it not?

Hels said...


with all the good planning in the world, I suppose the suck-and-see approach will prove whether the building's design is successful or not. The exterior looks stunning, but noone has said (yet) whether the visitors love their time in the museum or not.

Mind you, this is a Museum of Design, not of Archaeology, the War of Independence or Ballroom Dancing. Hopefully they got the design right!

Jim said...

Cool architectural design.

Hels said...

I think if you had landed on earth in a space ship and faced the Sydney Opera House, you would know exactly where you were. Ditto I hope that the Museum for Contemporary Design will become instantly recognisable.

Jerusalem Post said...

The Design Museum Holon is celebrating its fifth anniversary with the opening of three exhibitions prior to Holon’s Design Week. The first displays models of the some of world’s leading architects, such as Philippe Starck, Zaha Hadid and Patricia Urquiola. The second features more than 300 stools designed by Ya’akov Kaufman over the past two decades. The third shows the development process of three popular local products: salt shakers, necklaces and fruit bowls.

March 2015

Hels said...

Thank you.

I read the Shula Kopf article in The Jerusalem Report (20th April 2015) but that was more concerned with Israeli designers travelling to important Design Week events in London, Paris, Barcelona and New York etc.