The angled planes and jagged body of Preston Scott Cohen's newest addition to the Tel Aviv cityscape work hard to jolt the city out of the curvilinear entropy in which the majority of its contemporary architecture has been entrenched since Erich Mendelssohn and the neo-Bauhaus-phytes after him arrived in the Promise Land. The 195,000 square-foot extension to the Tel Aviv Art museum, the Herta and Paul Amir Building, was opened yesterday, doubling the museum's exhibition space to display the world's largest concentration of Israeli art.
Scott Cohen's building is a light and aquiline wedge of concrete that struts atop the open museum plaza, outshining its Brutalist neighbor (the institution's main building built in 1971) in both cool and wow factor. The structure's folded surfaces are faceted with 465 individual precast concrete panels, each imbued with the intense light of the Middle-Eastern sun.
Entering the building, however, yields an unexpected regularity of spaces. Rather than inclined walls or saw-toothed floorplates, the museum's five levels are given over to more-or-less conventional (i.e. rectangular) exhibition halls. The floors are rotated along different axes as they move upwards the museum's interior, with each acting independently of one another in both their structural and programmatic capacities.
The rotated floors are centripetally charged, and their dissimilar edges collected and compressed in 87-foot-high void at the building's core. This torus-shaped atrium, called "Lightfall," is bounded by a warped envelope of hyperbolic parabolic surfaces, parts of which peek in and out of the adjoining galleries. Ramps and stairs follow the atrium's extreme curvature, creating a fractured space that hints at the folded geometry of the exterior. Just as its name promises, natural light falls from above and is refracted off the white walls and into the building's darkest corners.
The building's schizophrenic divide between the interior and exterior forms critique modernism's ideological claims to seamlessness and continuity, as expressed in the open-plans and taut skins of Tel Aviv's ubiquitous white boxes and oblongs. By oscillating between the two extremes, the architecture gains a virtual freedom borne from its autonomous parts.