Interview

In Conversation: Kimmel Eshkolot Architects

By Hannah Schneiderman

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Jerusalem’s newly completed National Memorial for Israel’s Fallen on Mt. Herzl is sure to become one of the city’s most iconic buildings in years to come. Designed by Kimmel Eshkolot Architects, the building’s exterior is a sculptural, stepped mound, at home in its mountainous environment. The memorial’s interior, however, is where the building’s dramatic impact is fully felt. The building’s curved, funnel-like inner hall, flooded with light from above, is composed of individual bricks dedicated to every person fallen in the line of duty to the state. This impactful structure—the only memorial in the nation to gather together the names of every single fallen service person—stands at the entrance to Mt. Herzl cemetery and provides a calm and meaningful space for reflection and mourning by the many visitors to Mt. Herzl.

A Tel Aviv based practice founded in 1986 by Etan Kimmel and Michal Kimmel-Eshkolot, Kimmel Eshkolot Architects is responsible for a number of the Israel’s high profile projects, including the Davidson Museum at the Jerusalem Archaeological Park and a rehabilitation center for IDF veterans in Be’er Sheva, for which they won the prestigious Rechter Prize for Architecture. 

We caught up with the architects to ask them a few questions about the memorial:

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Hannah Schneiderman: What is your general methodology for going from the basic programmatic needs of a building to its design or from concept to construction? What is most important to you as architects? And what was your process in the Mt. Herzl Memorial specifically?

Kimmel Eshkolot Architects: The search process can start either from the context, the site’s location and its conditions—its landscape telling us how to design the building (as if the building is already there on site and the architect only has to reveal it), or it can start from the programmatic need—the deep understanding of why this building is built and for whom. But we also find a third possible generator to find the right architecture for the project and this is the way the building is built, its tectonic, its technology. This is part of the architectural idea for us—technology does not come as a way to solve a design but is part of the design idea. In the Mt. Herzl memorial, all three generators help us to discover the architecture of this project.

HS: What was your overall concept behind the structure? And what was the significance of the various unique elements—the shape, the bricks, the light, and any other important elements?

KEA: The idea to introduce a single memorial brick, each with a name of a fallen soldier and a light that is lit on the day of their death is fundamental for the project. It is the private place of the mourning family. The individual brick creates the wall of names and the wall of names creates the memorial hall. The brick is then used to construct the light funnel in the center as a special form that allows day light to pour into the space passing light also through the lattice of the bricks (in between the bricks). 

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HS: What experience did you hope to create for visitors to the Mount Herzl Memorial? What feelings do you want to evoke when someone walks into such a unique building?

KEA: It is the architecture that has to provide a sense of a sacred place, a place of silence and contemplation—separated from the daily life outside, but somehow we wanted to evoke together with the sadness also a sense of hope.

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HS: My original thought when seeing the renderings and sections was of the Shrine of the Book. Was that an intentional reference? What informed the unique shape of the building and how does it relate to its Jerusalem context? What sets apart an architectural project in Jerusalem versus Tel Aviv or anywhere else, especially for a Tel Aviv based architecture practice?

KEA: The Shrine of the Book, being a masterpiece, is a flattering comparison, but what we had in mind is the stone topographies of Jerusalem and of Mount Herzl. Using local stone in a way that takes its shape and its asymmetrical curved lines from the landscape around it was our way of connecting the memorial to its context—giving it a sort of a quiet iconic presence. 

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HS: Designing a memorial or museum can be a very different type of project than, say, a residential building or other more standard day-to-day buildings. Do you feel with a project such as this that you have leeway to go in a more artistic direction? Does form play a weightier role than function? Did you think of this project as a sculpture as much as a building?

KEA: As the role of the building is mostly about feeling, it is indeed less of a building—we were always in between a memorial and a memorial hall, meaning that it is a memorial that has to allow for ceremonies to be held in it. I guess that it is a project that calls for a more artistic quality than a functional building. 

HS: On a similar note, what are the specific challenges of designing a memorial or museum?

KEA: One of the important challenges in a museum or a memorial is the flow of people, how to orchestrate the visit, how to enter the building and how to explain to people where to go without any signs.

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HS: I have read that sustainability is an important focus at Kimmel Eshkolot. Did that play a big part in the design of this building?

KEA: It is a classic project to prove sustainable ideas, the memorial space—carved into the ground with a natural air flow coming in from the bottom and going out at the top upper part of the memorial—this space enjoys a regulated natural temperature cooler in the summer and more mild in the winter with no AC systems. There was also an emphasis on working with local materials.  

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HS: You seem to have quite a wide variety of projects under your belts, not to mention a lot of recent projects. Are you a big firm? Are public buildings your main focus or preference these days?

KEA: We have 20 architects working with us, all of them very talented and ambitious. We try not to be in a specific niche of the profession but rather to enjoy the great variety and the huge possible spectrum of the architectural work from interior design to urban planning and we believe this enriches our design process and our projects.  

HS: An opportunity to design an iconic building such as this seems like a dream commission for most architects. Where do you go from here? Is there a specific type of commission you would still love to receive or do you feel like you have already achieved “the dream”?

KEA: Good question….

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About The Author: Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Hannah Schneiderman is an architect living in Jerusalem. After graduating from the Arts Magnet High School (Booker T. Washington HSPVA) in Dallas, with a focus in welded steel sculpture, Hannah made aliyah and earned her B.Arch. from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in 2016. She is now working as an architect in Jerusalem at Moshe Margalith Architects and Urban Planners and as an architecture guide for CAIJ.

Photo credits: Amit Geron
Architecture: Kimmel Eshkolot Architects
Architects in charge: Etan Kimmel & Limor Amrani
Collaborating architect: Kalush Chechick Architects
Client: Ministry of Defence – Families and Commemoration Department
Structural engineer: Haim & Yehiel Steinberg Structural Engineering
Construction manager E.D. Rahat Engineering Coordination and Management
Design phase manager and coordinator: Eran Garber E.S.L Engineers
Contractor firm: Green Construction
Project manager: Nadav Rubin
Engineer: Eran Rosenberg
Light bell optimization: R/O/B Technologies – ETH Zurich
Lighting design: Amir Brenner Lighting Design
3D molds manufacturer: XENOM
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