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The Master Plan for the New City of Modi'in, Israel by Moshe Safdie and Associates
Modi'in, Israel: An urban center rises within the contours of the land, not in place of them.
by Len Abelman
April 29, 2002
“It is not enough to conquer; one must learn to seduce.” — author unknown
In 1988, architect Moshe Safdie was commissioned by the Israel Ministry of Housing to design the master plan for Modi’in, the country’s first “City of the Future.” The site was home to the Maccabees two thousand years previously, and is located roughly halfway between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. The rare opportunity to design a new city from scratch enabled Safdie to implement planning theories developed through observations of the successes and failures of contemporary cities.
In his book “The City after the Automobile” Safdie reflects on how some of the world’s most memorable cities are situated at the intersection of built and natural form: Capetown nestled between Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean, Geneva at the lake’s end, Rome on the Tiber’s bend, Amsterdam and its canals. When urban planners succeed in weaving the design of physical form with the “genius-loci” or “spirit” of place, residents are rewarded with a rich urban tapestry, enhancing their experience of the built environment.
The Modern Movement paid little attention to geographical site features and imposed orthogonal traffic grids on both flat and hilly terrain with little attempt at synergizing existing qualities of place. These grids prevented the natural expansion and overlap of traditional neighborhoods and separated communities by major roadways.
Observing Modi’in’s barren landscape of hills and valleys, Safdie sought to create a hierarchical network generated by the site’s topography. In an interview with the architect he grimaced as he explained to me what he didn’t want Modi’in to be: ”The valley is typically the domain of the highway planner…leading to a major mall, while the hill-tops after leveling: another featureless and discontinuous suburbia.”
Safdie’s design envisioned the valleys, rich in topsoil, as “green rivers lavishly planted with parks, schools, neighborhood shops, and community facilities contained by a couplet of one-way roads on either side.” These roads, resembling grand boulevards, defined the valleys edges with housing stepping up the sides of the hills, preserving the form of the land.
The design team created a scale model of the entire site. At 1:2500 scale, it covered 50 square meters. Using foam core, housing and roads were designed to follow natural topography with minimum earthworks. Buildings were designed up to only four stories – “tree-top height” – and terraced to the natural slopes. Hilltops were dotted with taller buildings, increasing the density of neighborhoods and serving as landmarks – points of visual reference in the landscape. The valleys serve both as traffic “connections and places, the spines and lifelines of the community – rivers of urban activity and open space.” Each valley is planted with a different species creating the “Valleys of Pines,” “Jacarandas,” and “Palms,” enhancing the individual qualities of place.
The valleys and communities flow through the topography until their natural convergence forms the heart and city center of Modi’in. This downtown area (still in development) links pedestrian, vehicular, and public transportation on various levels, and features commercial activity leading off a main public square. As a backdrop, the deep Wadi Anaba Valley runs westwards from the city center. The vegetation and olive and carob trees of the valley change from a deep green with wild flowers during the rainy winter months to a wheat color during the dry summer. The Wadi is protected as a nature reserve for the continued benefit of residents.
The first inhabitants moved to Modi’in in 1996. The city (about one third complete) currently has more than 30,000 residents, and is projected to accommodate 200,000 when completed.
Learning from Modi’in
Modi’in is one of the few designed cities in Israel where individual buildings are conceived as part of an integrated urban design model. Most contemporary urban architecture in Israel has degenerated to collections of competing corporate icons with little attention to urban fabric and natural context. The realm of town planning has been passed on to planning engineers. Yet somewhere between the extremes of planning an individual building or an entire city, the common denominator of both remains the same – the individual inhabitant. The challenge for town planners is their consideration of individuals and their quality of life within the context of a large city. The challenge for architects is the sensitive integration of their individual buildings with the land and cityscape.
Moshe Safdie’s work tends to bridge these separate challenges. Whether he is designing a new city or a public building within a city, the building blocks of his designs are the needs of individuals inhabiting the spatial systems he is defining. His preoccupation is with the penetration of light into working and living environments, the importance of views to the outside world, and links between inside and out. He refers to his public buildings as small cities, divided into a continuous hierarchy of living streets and public and private spaces.
Modi’in’s beauty lies in the humility of its design and resistance to conquering its surrounding landscape. The path of seduction is a powerful tool, too seldom exploited.
Editor’s note: Modi’in is not part of any land dispute in the region.
Moshe Safdie Associates Design Team:
Moshe Safdie, Miron Cohen (project architect), Gene Dyer, Uri Shetrit, Richard Rabnett, Zahi Halberstadt
Special thanks to Miron Cohen and Peppi Dotan (M.Safdie Jerusalem Office)
Moshe Safdie first established his architectural practice in 1964, in Montreal, to design and supervise the construction of Habitat ‘67. Today, the principal office is in Boston, Massachusetts, with branch offices in Jerusalem and Toronto. The firm provides a full range of planning and architectural services. Current projects include museums, performing arts centers, university campuses, airports, housing, mixed-use complexes, and new communities.
Len Abelman is an architect practicing in Tel Aviv.
(click on pictures to enlarge)
(Moshe Safdie Associates)Model: Modi'in City Centre and housing zones; view from Northeast.
(Moshe Safdie Associates)Master plan
(Moshe Safdie Associates)Sketch of Modi'in's interlinking valleys
(Moshe Safdie Associates)Sketch of valley and housing
(Moshe Safdie Associates)Plan for industrial area, which includes numerous green spaces.
(Moshe Safdie Associates)Road plan
(Moshe Safdie Associates)Master plan highlighting valley linkages
(Albatross)One of many green spaces in Modi'in
(Moshe Safdie Associates)Sketch of housing stepped to site topography
(Moshe Safdie Associates)Section of housing slope
(Uri Shitreet)Stepped housing designed by architect Uri Shitreet
(Albatross)Aerial view of Modi'in during early stages of construction
(Albatross)Aerial view of Modi'in during early stages of construction
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