Jerusalem’s ugliest building (hint: it’s not the Holyland)

For years, whenever I have driven down King George Street, near the Great Synagogue and the Leonardo (formerly Sheraton) Plaza Hotel, the building at the corner with Agron Street has pained me – a tremendously ugly, 7-story, dilapidated monstrosity that …

The Amir Center in Jerusalem

For years, whenever I have driven down King George Street, near the Great Synagogue and the Leonardo (formerly Sheraton) Plaza Hotel, the building at the corner with Agron Street has pained me – a tremendously ugly, 7-story, dilapidated monstrosity that I have waited patiently for some announcement of its pending demolition that never comes.

And now I learn that the building was not only once considered a paradigm of daring optimism and ”modernity,” but the architect behind it has become one of the most celebrated in the country’s history.

That’s not to say that the Amir Center (as the building is officially called) won’t someday be torn down to build another luxury apartment tower; other high-rise buildings have already been approved in its immediate surroundings. But a retrospective, almost loving article in today’s Haaretz may temper those ambitions.

In 1958, architect David Resnick was asked to design a new residential building at the intersection in question. In an interview, he praised its innovations, which broke out of the classic Jerusalem Stone look and feel to splash a dose of modernist paint on the city. The Amir Center was built on a large 10 dunam plaza, its 7 floors propped up on stilts, with a Supersol supermarket (the first in Jerusalem) down below.

While Resnick was pleased with his creation (it even won an award in 1963 for technological innovation), the building was immediately dubbed “Jerusalem’s ugliest building” in street interviews that took place at the time, Haaretz reports.

That controversy, however, helped raise Resnick’s public visibility, and the architect went on design such more acclaimed Jerusalem landmarks as the dome shaped synagogue on Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus, the Mormon Center on Mount Scopus and the Van Leer Institute, among many other always-modernist style projects.

That said, Resnick admits that the Amir Center has been “modified” beyond its original clean lines: residents have enclosed balconies, added unattractive air conditioning units. Indeed, Resnick says “When I walk past the building today, I look the other way. I can’t bear to see what they did to it.

The city is promoting a plan where a contractor is given the rights to build an extra floor or two at no cost provided the residents’ current living space is upgraded (including making it earthquake proof). But the building’s shell, apparently, isn’t strong enough to bear the additional weight, so for now, it’s either demolish or stay ugly.

While “to date no plan has been formulated or submitted,” according to a municipality spokesperson, Resnick would undoubtedly be opposed. “The question of nice or not nice is irrelevant,” he says. “I think that the Israeli establishment does not understand what architecture is and its importance to the state.”

In another 50 years, will they be talking this way about the Holyland project too?

About Brian Blum

Brian has been a journalist and high-tech entrepreneur for over 20 years. He combines this expertise for ISRAEL21c and Israelity as he writes about hot new local startups, pharmaceutical advances, scientific discoveries, culture, the arts and daily life in Israel. He loves hiking the country with his family (and blogging about it). Originally from California, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three children.
  • http://www.israelity.com Rachel

    No, they won’t.

  • Rochelle E.

    I would nominate the Ramat Polin montrosity in Ramot for the ugliest in jerusalem! The buildings look like cheap decrepit tumbling pentagons.

  • Julie

    I first thought you were referring to the other ugly building on that block on the other side of the Leonardo Plaza. It is a scary shell of a building across from the Jewish Agency. What is its story? I can’t believe such prime real estate is languishing like that, collecting graffiti and rats.

  • chava

    Ugly or not — It has what seems to me to be the best political message around. It has a sign with a picture of a Native American saying, “Ask ME about land for peace.”

  • Aharon

    You forget to mention the extra “beautification” that comes to this building during Succot when someone builds this scary Succah on Stilts for the Yom Tov. Israel is a country of miracles, and surely it is a miracle that this Succah holds the weight of whatever or whoever is contained in this Succah. Not to mention the enhanced appearance it gives to this lovely structure on King George.