DAVID Kroyanker’s paean to his beloved Jerusalem is an enriching joy to behold, which offers a fascinating peek into this unique and ever-evolving city, writes BARRY DAVIS
HOW many of us take in the finer aesthetic urban details of Jerusalem? How many of us actually take the trouble to look up from our mobile phones while, for example, waiting at a bus stop, recalibrate our optical focus and cast a discerning glance in the direction of the structures lining the streets of the capital?
The answer is probably a resounding “very few,” but if David Kroyanker has anything to do with it, we’ll all be feasting our eyes on some charming and intriguing architectural items that not only offer visual delights, but also provide some insight into the annals of this fair city of ours.
That much is patently clear from the self-explanatorily titled ‘Jerusalem in Detail’ exhibition, currently in full alluring flow at the Israel Museum.
Just in case you are not entirely familiar with Kroyanker’s oeuvre to date, it is worthwhile noting some of the 78-year-old former Jerusalemite’s bulging long-running and constantly evolving portfolio of publications.
His more recent releases include Jerusalem: The German Colony and Emek Refaim Street (2008, Hebrew), Jaffa Road – Jerusalem: Biography of a Street, Story of a City (2009, Hebrew) and The Jerusalem Triangle: An Urban Biography (2011, Hebrew).
We meet up at his office, in Ramat Aviv, which, in itself, is something of a surprise.
Our previous confluence took place around a decade earlier, at Kroyanker’s well-appointed domicile in the Malha suburb of his beloved Jerusalem.
Kroyanker and his wife relocated westward six years ago to be near their daughters and grandchildren, but his heart is still very much in the city of his birth.
There is probably no one better qualified, in professional and personal terms, to document the architecture and urban storyline of the capital.
Kroyanker grew up in Rehavia and, after reading architecture in London in the 1960s, returned to Israel to leave his imprint on the city, both as an architect and as an architectural historian.
Over the past half century or so, he has written dozens of popular tomes about Jerusalem suburbs, streets and buildings, and urban planning.
The museum exhibition, which was curated by Dan Handel with the assistance of Keren Kinberg, is something of a third-generation offering.
Its source antecedent is a deluxe, limited-edition, four-volume set titled Jerusalem Design: God is in the Details.
It is just about as comprehensive a summation of Jerusalem structural aesthetics as you could hope to find. Each of the component parts is devoted to what Kroyanker calls a different “design identity” — Jewish, Christian, Muslim and 20th century.
Practically every civilisation in history over the past three millennia has passed through this neck of the woods, strategically located at the interface of Europe, Asia and Africa.
All had their say about Jerusalem, stayed here for various periods of time and, to varying degrees, left their marks on the urban structural zeitgeist.
The middle stage of the exhibition gestation continuum was ‘Jerusalem, God Is in the Details —Multicultural Design Identities’, a handsome tome that weighs in at more than 500 pages and is a distilled version of the aforementioned four-parter.
The museum display echoes such pertinent subsections in the book as ‘The Structure of Traditional Jewish Neighborhoods and Their Gates’, ‘Ceramic Tiles’ from the Muslim Design Identity section, and ‘Europe in Jerusalem’ from the Christian Design Identity section.
Kroyanker also gets into some of the more picturesque aspects of quotidian community life, such as pashkevilim (street posters) in Mea Shearim, which generally contain polemic warnings about some troubling issue of religious import, and even graffiti.
The secret charity boxes also make for intriguing viewing.
As you enter the exhibition space, you are immediately thrust into the vibe of the city. You are greeted by a large video screen portraying the hustle and bustle of downtown Jerusalem, as a mosaic of characters of all ethnic, religious and social structure stripes go about their daily business.
The overview is an important introduction into the city’s milieu, but, as the show title implies, it is the minutiae that draw the eye and tug at the heartstrings.
If you ever find yourself in the environs of the Russian Compound or, possibly, visiting Safra Square on your way to pay some council tax bill, you might catch an exemplar of the Russian Orthodox emblem based on a symmetrical amalgam of four Greek letters — chi, the equivalent or of our ‘x’, rho, which looks like our ‘p’, alpha and omega.
There is more in the way of Europe’s imprint on Jerusalem — in the Old City, for example, in the form of the imperial Russian eagle engraved near the entrance of the Church of the Redeemer, dating to the end of the 19th century.
“The ‘Jerusalem in Detail’ exhibition sort of summarises all of Kroyanker’s years of work in Jerusalem,” Kinberg explains. “That takes in a lot of years and a lot of books.”
But, says Kinberg, it is not so much about the impressive volume of artifacts and information; rather, we should be getting into the nitty-gritty of local aesthetics.
“He collated the details, and the museum decided to stage this exhibition because that offers a very interesting perspective of Jerusalem — showing the richness of the city through the details.”
It is fascinating to follow the typology spectrum on show at the museum, which echoes the stylistic approaches of different sectors of society, cultures and epochs.
Take the motif of the tablets of the Ten Commandments, as portrayed in an art deco iron grille from the entrance of a residential building in the Etz Haim suburn, not far from the western entrance to Jerusalem, dating to 1931.
Contrast that with the more abstract representation that looms high above the Great Synagogue, fashioned in 1982, and you get some inkling of the enormous breadth of architectural aesthetics on show, for all to perceive and enjoy, here.
The Templers also left their visual imprint on Jerusalem, largely along Emek Refaim Street in the German Colony, and the Armenians also contributed to the city’s decorative bounty — for instance, in the façade of an edifice built by the Armenian patriarch in 1900, located near the corner of Shlomo Hamelech Street and Jaffa Road, near IDF Square.
If Jerusalem, God Is in the Details, the book, and the ‘Jerusalem in Detail’ exhibition are anything to go by, we could spend all our waking hours exploring the architectural gems dotted around the city and still not exhaust the exquisite treasure trove of beauty to be had here.
Crafted pediments, chimney stacks, spires, stone latticework, daintily painted ceilings, gates, mezzuzot, stained glass windows, window grilles, floral architectonic embellishments, crosses, mosaics, tiles, weather vanes, intricate balcony railings and street signs — they are all over the place, sometimes in the most unexpected places.
So next time you happen to mosey on down through the centre of town, for example, you stand to enjoy some sensorial rewards by simply elevating your vision trajectory.
There is even design beauty to be had near the bus station and in other less elegant areas of the city.
Kroyanker’s paean to his beloved Jerusalem is an enriching joy to behold, which offers a fascinating peek into this unique and ever-evolving city.
The ‘Jerusalem in Detail’ exhibition closes on April 30.