Finding shady solutions for Israel’s public spaces, where glaring sunshine often reigns supreme, is the focus of a new exhibit at the Design Museum in the central Israeli town of Holon.
Titled “Urban Shade in Israel,” the exhibit looks at how Israeli cities were modeled on European designs and not tailored for the hot Middle Eastern climate, said Maya Dvash, a curator and editor of all printed materials for the museum.
“The main thing about sun is it bothers everybody,” said Dvash. “The playgrounds are empty because parents are afraid to send their kids to play there.”
People huddle behind bus stops to escape the sun, but find no refuge in large open spaces like Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. The sun is especially dangerous for children, Dvash said, and the goal of the exhibit is to make people more aware of the problem.
“We observed there are fewer and fewer people in the streets, and one of the reasons is there is less and less shade,” said Galit Gaon, the museum’s chief curator.
The project is the result of a three-year effort involving the museum, the municipality of Holon, and the Beracha Foundation, a philanthropy program based in Jerusalem.
As part of the exhibit, the museum held an international contest inviting designers to model shade structures for five sites around the city as part of the project. Holon was used as a case study but the organizers say the ideas are relevant locally and globally.
“Design is not only making objects, but trying to look at the environment and see what’s needed,” said Dvash. “Today, designers are playing a more social role than they did in the past.”
The museum’s outdoor space housed several structures based on the designs submitted to the museum’s contest. One, called “Under Blue Sky,” used long mesh strips over a metal frame to efficiently cover a large public space. “Green Net” is a structure built for climbing plants that provides an environmentally friendly way to block the sun. “Cloud Seeding,” a contest winner, is a flat, clear ceiling containing 20,000 hollow plastic balls. It creates soft, natural shade that moves with the wind, like leaves on trees.
“It’s a shading structure that attempts to challenge the notion of shade, that it can be dynamic not only by sun movement but also by wind conditions,” said Rachely Rotem of MODU Architecture, who designed “Cloud Seeding” with the design team Geotectura.
“A lot of our work is about the relationship between architecture and weather,” added Phu Hoang, also of MODU, which is based in New York. “The environment is dynamic, it’s unpredictable and constantly changing, so much of our work is about giving some kind of expression to the dynamic forces in the environment.”
Exhibits inside the museum explored other possible alternatives. One display depicted an historical progression of shading materials, starting with woven goat hair and palm fronds and ending with a futuristic plan for an artificially-covered island in Abu Dhabi.
Designers adapted agricultural and industrial materials to create better shading, and sometimes used nature as a model. Pine cones inspired a type of vent that opens at high certain temperatures, and an insulation material made of thin strands of glass imitated polar bear fur.
“We strongly believe that the development of new materials should come from the designers, the people who are concerned with the environment, not just the engineers and industrial forces,” Gaon said.
Students from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design modernized the traditional Arabic mashrabiya, a porous, patterned barrier used as an exterior wall. It provides shade and privacy while allowing wind to pass through, and was commonly used in Israel in the 1950s and 1960s before becoming less fashionable.
The Bezalel students created modern mashrabiya designs using 3D printers and contemporary materials. One student designed a flexible wall that could be wrapped around corners, and another imitated woven wool cloth. Another design was made of segments resembling animal vertebrae.
Rotem, who is Israeli, and Hoang, work internationally, and said they were interested in the competition because of the social impact the project could have.
“I think it’s a necessity when climate becomes so extreme, and it’s going to get even more extreme, that we are able to respond to it in new and creative ways,” Rotem said. “Otherwise we are going to be controlled by air conditioning.”
The museum’s exhibit is part of a larger project meant to change urban planning in Israel, Dvash said, although she acknowledges it is not a priority for the country.
“Israel has so many issues. Very quickly we have a new issue to deal with,” she said. “If we have a war or something in the summer, who cares about shade.”
The organizers want to change the laws in Israel to require more shade in public spaces, and have guides leading tours with umbrellas to make people more aware of the need for shade. A row of colorful umbrellas hangs behind the desk of the design museum for visitors to use when touring the outdoor portion of the exhibit.
Dvash hopes the project will plant a seed for future change.
“People deserve shade. We are not living in Norway, we live in the Middle East,” Dvash said. “It’s not something that’s a privilege, it’s a necessity.”
The Urban Shade exhibit will be available at the Holon Design Museum through October 31.