Now under construction, Israel’s new archaeology center is profiled in the Architectural Record.
In Jerusalem, the capital of a modern country enthralled by its past, a unique national archaeology campus is being built. The project—commissioned by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and officially named The Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein National Campus for the Archaeology of Israel—combines three major components: storage of the national archaeological treasures (some two million items); restoration labs for objects made of various materials, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, mosaics, and glass, textile, and clay finds; and a national archaeology library and archive.
The guiding principle in the design of the new complex, which Safdie proposed during the competition phase, was that the project be a metaphor for an archaeological excavation. The floors will be numbered from the top down, like the numbering of strata in an excavation. And some mosaic preservation work will take place in the courtyards, which will be shaded by a canopy much like the tent-like canopies used in actual digs. The most striking design feature is this giant, square, concave canopy, held in place by cables and made of a brown, woven fiberglass-and-polymer fabric that allows 40 percent light transmission while keeping rain out. “Because of the shape, [water] drains toward the center, forming a kind of fountain into a pool,” Safdie said.
The new campus “is not a museum,” although there will be displays of finds from recent excavations before they are shown permanently elsewhere. Most important, it will give people a chance to see the process of archaeology and have “a glimpse of the accumulation by allowing [them] into the vaults and to see 1,000 mosaics, 10,000 pots,” Safdie said. “It will have more meaning, that you can [come here] and then see … displays in the other museums.”
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Since most tourists to Israel don’t even make it to the Israel Museum (sadly!), it is unlikely that this specialized archaeological complex will be added to tourist itineraries. But repeat visitors and those fascinated by archaeology will surely want to make time for it. The center is scheduled to open in April 2016.
Image courtesy Safdie Architects and the Israel Antiquities Authority