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JULY 2021 · ENG

There is a close relationship between health and the ways in which people live.In this episode of Post-Pandemic Cities, Erez Ella shares his extensive knowledge of architecture and urban planning.

Through two recent works, such as the construction of Shiba Hospital, considered one of the 10 most significant medical projects in the world in terms of quality of health care. On the other hand, the masterplan that he is working on in the south of Tel Aviv. With these examples, Erez Ella shares his keys to providing solutions adapted to the many changes taking place in societies today.

Ciudades pospandemia #14

Audio: Erez Ella.
Realización sonora: Genzo P.
Comisariado: Kristine Guzmán y Eneas Bernal.
Imagen: HQ Architecs. Sheba Medical Center, 2021.

Connect with the work by Erez Ella and HQ architects trouhght

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Audio transcription

Hi everyone. My name is Erez Ella. I’m speaking today, tonight from Tel Aviv, Israel. I
was born in Jerusalem 50 years ago, since then, studied in Tel Aviv University and most
of my junior years I did in OMA in Rotterdam, then in New York. In New York I also
helped in establishing Rex Architecture together with Joshua Prince Ramus. In 2008, I
moved back to Tel Aviv and established HQ Architects, and since then I’m also teaching
in the Bezalel Academy of Art in the city of Jerusalem. So, in a way I did a full circle from
Jerusalem all the way back, more or less around the globe, at least the western sphere
of the world.
Here at HQ, we are lucky to do complex projects from various types and typologies,
scales and typologies. We are working with municipalities, the private sector, doing from
very small to very big, from housing all the way to infrastructure and masterplans. We
also feel very lucky that we have the chance to work during these times, when revolution
is happening in our mind, technology is changing everything. It is also changing the city.
The backbone of traditional city keeps changing in front of our eyes. The economy,
mobility, the way we live, the way we move in the city, the social aspects of the city are
completely changing because of technology. This is for us, a really interesting time. It
gives us the opportunity to seek how architects can continually influence in the era of
information. And for that we kind of have a saying here, and that is something that leads
us quite a lot is, we put our faith in data. We believe that we should collect, seek, look
after, analyze and find data. And this is maybe today, the best tool architects can have
in order to suggest new things.
Now before I’m gonna talk about the pandemic, COVID, health and the city, I want to
mention one thing, or two things about data, that we kind of, tend to forget. Data can be
used in two main ways, if I may say. One is to look for data to understand the current
situation, for observation, for research, to see what’s happening today and sometimes it
can be used for different things, which is to design and create solutions. I think that most
of the time, people look at data for the latter, for how it can create solutions. This is of
course very interesting, and we will talk a lot about it later but I think we’re looking also
to study and understand the current situation or the existing urban situation by analyzing
existing data. This kind of allows us to get a deeper look into what’s actually happening.
We can collect data from different places, not only the physical ones. We can understand
social conditions, we can understand economic conditions, trends, mobility and other
things and aspects of the city that sometimes can be overlooked.
Going back to our main subject tonight—post-pandemic city—I want to mention one thing
that perhaps you already know. Tel Aviv and Israel, in general, is, I think, one of the first
countries that came out of the pandemic crisis. Actually here, we don’t feel it at all except
for the fact that maybe we cannot fly around the world as we would like to, and hopefully
it will remain like that. I’ll just give a little bit of perspective about if and how the city
changes. So the first thing I’d like to mention is that in my perspective, COVID did not
change the course of history or change the way we would live. It just accelerated some
processes. It’s accelerated the way commerce works in the city. In my mind, small shops
or stores were doomed before the pandemic, and we see it now happening all around
us. It’s accelerated the work and employment models. It changed… we see now people
walking from home. It’s something that already happened before. Our employees are
demanding models for hiring and working for us before the pandemic and after the
pandemic, we see that a bit stronger. It also accelerated some kind of need for
communal, community, social resiliency, if you like, that needs to happen in order to
maintain the fabric of the society of how we live together.
So, a lot of things changed, but in perspective, I believe that they did not change in a
way that we were supposed to be surprised out of it. Having said that, it doesn’t mean
that the pandemic did not change the architecture or urban planning. We can see that
our clients for buildings start to ask themselves different questions that before, they did
not ask. They ask us how social spaces can help the work environment, if it’s an office
building. They ask us how they can create outdoor spaces for either apartment or office
spaces. We see that even in health care and in places we designed like the Shiba
Hospital. We have to envision its masterplan for the next 20 or 30 years, they started to
ask how we can create places that, on the one hand, can be private for the patients, but
at the same time, with outdoor qualities of greenery, with places of fresh air, not
necessarily air conditioned, and so on and so forth.
For us architects, it’s actually great because this is the moment that we can start to
envision and suggest things that a maybe couple of years ago, were overlooked because
of economy. So now we feel there is an opportunity, a moment that we can put our foot
in the door, if you like. On the one hand we have the developer —kind of developer, or
private market or capital— asking us what we can do, what are the next steps that we
should look at. At the same time, we as architects already understand that we need to
abound this term of masterplan, this big thing that we know what will be the first step in
designing and what will be the last step in designing. We understand that we cannot
know everything, we cannot anticipate everything, and with this kind of moment, we need
to look and see how we act.
We can see also two things that happened here that I want to point out. One is our
realization that speed is an essence. It’s a big issue for all of us. Maybe 40 or 50 years
ago we could have started a design and then we finish it and then we build the building
or the neighborhood. The society pretty much remained the same. Today, it’s not like
that. We are designing when we start the project until we finish the programming or
concept design, reality around us changes. And again, COVID and pandemic suggest
that as well. This is one thing, and we need to, in a way, try to suggest ways to deal with
that. At the same time, we also understand that no matter what we will need to do, we
have to suggest resiliency. Resiliency, in many aspects of the word, is ecological, of
course. We see the way they are changing in front of our eyes: every year it becomes
hotter; the phenomena that are happening… But also resiliency of the community, of our
life, of how we see our families, of how we consume our cultural events, how we consume
our food, how we grow food… So there are many ways that we need to look at that and
try to deal with it.
So i would like to give maybe two examples of projects that show you how we can handle
this kind of complex situation that we are living in. The first one would be the Shiba
Hospital project. It’s a project for one of the top ten, I think it’s ranked 9th in the world in
terms of quality of hospital. And the hospital is turning quite old. It used to be outside of
the city around agricultural fields, non-urban at all. And since the city, the metropolis
grew out, at the moment, it’s centered in the middle of a new neighborhood. The hospital,
as an entity, decided to change its mode of operatus. Instead of being in an enclosed
environment for fixing people, or fixing health of people, they try to become a city of
health —some kind of urban fabric where people can get their well-being, if you like. With
that, they came to us and asked us to help them envision the three-dimensionality of the
hospital, triple its size for 1.5 M square meters. Of course, it’s almost impossible to
imagine the size of the square meters that we will need to build on —they will build in the
next forty years. We need also to add to that the pandemic lessons that they learned.
Maybe the main one is that they don’t know what they would need to design in the next
ten years. They don’t know if there will be COVID number 2, COVID-19 number 2, or it
will be something else that they need to deal with. We also need to add to that the unique
conditions in Israel, sadly, I must say, sometimes we are facing conflicts and security
issues that the hospital itself needs to react to give service to, in terms of wars and other
armed conflicts. Or in the day to day, be a little more secure than other infrastructure
buildings in the city.
So once we started to look at this problem, we realized that the hospital itself is monitored
quite a lot. They have a lot of information that they usually use for being a little bit more
efficient in terms of operation—how many staff they need, how they can move around,
food or meals or laundry and so on. And we took that data and we started to look at it in
different ways and what we realized is that we can divide the whole movement of people
and —let’s call it goods— medicine, laundry, food and so on to four different system of
movements. So the conclusion out of the data collection was that what we need to
design is not the building, but actually the infrastructure of all movement within the
hospital and this suggests four different layers of movement for different types of
circulation. One of it is completely urban, connected to the new residence around the
hospital, walkable, flat, pedestrian-oriented, shadowed and so on. So the data and the
information we collect is used to understand this situation and have a—hopefully I would
say—smart observation about the conditions. So its just a completely unique strategy of
how to develop the hospital in the future.
The second example I would like to give is about a masterplan we are doing for the south
of Tel Aviv. It’s the last industrial area within Tel Aviv. Economy pushed back, pushed
out, most of the heavy and small industry out of the city. The industry moved out. A lot
of the creative class of the city also cannot afford being there, staying in the city. We
could see it even with our employees, how they have to move out of the city because
they cannot afford the rent that is raising up. Over there we suggested… again, we
analyzed, we collected quite a lot of data actually from the city, public data. And we
realized that there is a very interesting ecosystem of commercial connections between
the different industries and the small workshops that exist over there. So there is a guitar
—electric guitar— manufacturer that buys its wood for the guitars from a supplier a
couple of blocks from it, and probably the designer that designed those guitars are a
couple of blocks the other way around. And we also realized that once we take out one
of those entities, and if they will need to move out of the neighborhood, the whole three
or four businesses and industries that relies on one of those existing entities will have to
move with it. So it will kill a whole branch of businesses that can be in the city.
On another hand, we also realized that we cannot force our carpenter —he’s maybe 70
years old, still does and hopefully can work for several more years— but at one moment
he will have to stop work and not force another carpenter to move in. So we suggest that,
instead of a masterplan, a digital ecosystem that will show the municipality that gives
permits and new urban plans to be built in the neighborhood, a system that will show
who relies on whom. Therefore, when there is a new building coming in, we suggest
places that either builders can move to, or how to keep that building or this business
while the whole block is being renovated. We suggested places that needs to be
preserved as a space, not from an architecture point of view, or aesthetic point of view,
but from a performance point of view. Either high ceilings for different industries, either
large loading docks and so on and so forth. And what we’re trying to do over there and
what’s actually happening is that we are not trying to show how the whole area will look
like but what we’re trying to show is how the area will perform in the future and we found
that extremely interesting as a place of resiliency or a place that would like to be resilient.
I would like to finish this short talk by summarizing the issue of data and architecture. I
think that we all see how the tech companies are using data in a way that maybe
sometimes even scares us. They took control of music, cinema, dating, images,
photographs… all the industries that currently are online, we see they actually can
anticipate what we would like to see, creating or controlling the way we are consuming
culture information and obviously when we look at companies like Facebook or twitter,
also form the way we think and our opinions on things. But architecture has a unique
condition. Since we are a fragmentized industry, design and urban planning are not
centralized in one place yet (I hope it will never be). We can, in a way, create or continue
to create this infrastructure for ideas and infrastructure for society to meet, create and
think independently and I think this is kind of the way we need to use data and
information. And i will finish by referring to an Israeli singer, Nota Erez. She sings in one
of her songs, “Bring back the noise”, referring to the fact that she’s asking everybody to
continue to make noise in this silence algorithm that started to control our life.

Thank you very much for listening and goodbye.

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