Oh, Jerusalem: Eternal Center / Generic Periphery

“Jerusalem …. focus of the struggle between the Abrahamic religions, the shrine for increasingly popular Christian, Jewish and Islamic fundamentalism, the strategic battlefield of clashing civilizations, the front line between atheism and faith, the cynosure of secular fascination, the object of giddy conspiracism and internet mythmaking, and the illuminated stage for the cameras of the world in the age of 24-hour news.” (Simon S. Montefiore)

Descriptions such as above, evoking the ancient, hallowed, Holy City, tend to obscure the fact that Jerusalem today is an area of nearly one million people comprising – outside of its historic walled center – many of the characteristics of any modern urban region, including a periphery of disjointed residential areas, strip malls, highways, job centers and other quite familiar conditions of contemporary metropolitan urbanism.

But there is that amazing cauldron of history and artifice at the center, across centuries considered a “Center of the (Western) World.” So the studio will proceed remaining mindful of this dialectical condition, of course exaggerated in Jerusalem but common among cities worldwide, of a place with a canonical, treasured center surrounded by the commonplace, mundane, ordinary peripheries of everyday urban life. In planning and designing for an area at the periphery of Jerusalem – and one of these will be a focus of the studio – how should one take into account that it is still part of Jerusalem: how faithful does one remain to the ‘idea of a city’ while attending to its contemporary needs.

The studio will proceed in two parts, corresponding to either side of the March spring break week spent in Jerusalem. The first part of the semester will involve several exercises gaining an understanding of the city, both its history and its present characteristics. This will culminate with presentations that the studio will deliver in Jerusalem, where we will interact with student colleagues from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design (Jerusalem), and the Lichtenstein University Institute of Architecture and Planning, who will also be visiting Jerusalem. Upon returning from Jerusalem the remainder of the semester will be devoted to the planning and design development of a specific area of Jerusalem.

Students from each of the degree programs at the GSD are welcome, as cross-disciplinary interaction, insight and collaboration is an essential component of addressing any urban site.

Ofer Manor, Chief Architect for the City of Jerusalem, will join us on three occasions in Cambridge during the semester and will act as our host and guide when the studio travels to Jerusalem.