Al Mansfeld, Architect (1912–2004)
Born in St. Petersburg in 1912, Alfred Mansfeld came to Germany as a child, trained as an architect in Berlin and Paris, and moved to Palestine in 1935. While teaching at the Technion in Haifa, he also maintained an active architectural practice and invented his own language of international modernism for the region, of which the Israel Museum is perhaps the finest example. When the idea of building a new national museum in Jerusalem was realized in the early 1960s, Mansfeld was awarded the commission, together with interior designer Dora Gad, and the first buildings of the Israel Museum were inaugurated on May 11, 1965; a year later, the two were awarded the Israel Prize for Architecture for their design of the Museum.
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Top: General View with Crusader's Monastery.
Bottom: View from South, Al Mansfeld, 1975.
Replicating in modular modernism a design system that would relate to the way in which a Mediterranean village might grow organically on the Museum’s site atop Neveh Sha’anan, the Hill of Tranquility, Mansfeld devised a modular unit, 11.2 meters square, that could be constructed independently or in combination with additional units. The roof of each module floats on a single central column, enabling a clerestory of light to separate the seemingly levitated roof slab from the free-standing walls of each modular enclosure, constructed of form-cast concrete clad with Jerusalem stone.
The renewed Upper Entrance Hall at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, featuring highlights from the Contemporary and Israeli Art collections. Photo © Tim Hursley, courtesy of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
The Museum’s Upper Entrance Hall – originally the main entrance to the galleries and today preserved as a tribute to Mansfeld’s architectural achievement – combines four such modules, the largest massing of these forms on the campus. Its roof floats above four columns; light enters from above on the east, south, and west, and through a full-height glass curtain wall on the north, facing the Knesset on the adjacent hill. The conservation of this space recognizes and celebrates the lasting power of Mansfeld’s vision for a Mediterranean modernist language – a language linking the Museum to the period in which it was created, while also reflecting the universal and timeless nature of its encyclopedic mission.
Building upon the achievement of Mansfeld's opus, the 2010 renewal of the Museum's campus was designed by James Carpenter Design Associates, New York, and Efrat-Kowalsky Architects, Tel Aviv, with A. Lerman Architects, Tel Aviv, to reinforce and resonate with the character of Mansfeld's original plan.