Jerusalem looks to its Burj Khalifa while Israeli cities seek new heights

New construction that might come to define Jerusalem as much as it is religious and architectural for the city is under discussion by city planners. Known as the city’s version of the Burj Khalifa, if approved, it would rise 40 stories in the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood, next to the Mount Herzl light rail station.

The international architects behind the design, Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill, were responsible for the original Burj Dubai. But those leading the practical aspects of the project are quick to stress that this will not be a copy of the original, but rather a uniquely designed structure that fits within the landscape of Jerusalem.

After four years of development, the constant challenge has been to deliver a design that is both traditional and modern and that meets all the different needs of the community. The proposed building will face the Jerusalem Stone and will include balconies as an integral part of the overall design. It will provide both private and public space, including viewing spaces. It will consist of 240 residential units in addition to 48 small apartments, a hotel and a cultural center.

The building still lacks some permits and will take five years to build. But everyone involved knows that this skyscraper must fit into the city’s unique architectural landscape.

The pressure on land and housing prices in Jerusalem inevitably focuses attention on upgrading the landscape in the city. A 30-storey tower is under construction on Pierre Koenig Street in Talbot, due for completion in 2026. It will provide 144 apartments including 30 housing units for students. A group of 20 towers has been planned for the western entrance to the city and care is taken that the plans include cultural spaces, art galleries and museums. Other towers are under consideration for other parts of the city.

But with the approval of an increasing number of relatively tall buildings in Jerusalem, there are concerns that the character of the city is changing, that the views are changing, and the relationship between the city and the surrounding hills and forests is being obscured.

A structure similar to the Burj Khalifa in Jerusalem, also known as the Epstein Building. (AS+GG Architecture)

The situation is not clear. Jerusalem needs more homes, and is still of great interest to foreign investors. With limited land, the city must increase its density. The TAMA 38 programme, which allows additional floors to be added to existing buildings, is widely used by developers across Jerusalem, and is promoted by the Jerusalem Municipality as a way to introduce urban renewal and new apartments within the city’s existing footprint.

But the outlook and feel of the living is changing. All too often, these high-rises also fail to provide the affordable housing that the growing ultra-Orthodox community particularly needs. For example, the Savyon View Tower currently under construction will be 27 stories tall, with 194 apartments, but the price for a one-bedroom unit starts at NIS 2.5 million ($785,742).

Burj Khalifa and Downtown Dubai at dusk. (Hurricanes via iStock via Getty Images)

Tel Aviv has already taken the title of the seventh tallest city in the Middle East, based on the number of buildings over 150 meters high. The higher prices are already increasing the heights and density of tall buildings there as well, and the city’s new masterplan envisages increasing the number of taller buildings from 20 to 80 stories.

Azrieli Spiral Tower is the tallest skyscraper in the city currently under construction. It is expected to be more than 300 meters high and consist of 91 floors. The design was led by Kohn Pederson Fox Associates, the American architecture firm behind some of the tallest buildings in the world, including the 555-meter Lotte World Tower in Seoul, South Korea, and the 435-meter Vanderbilt Tower in Manhattan.

The spiral tower will top the nearby Azrieli Sarona Tower – currently the tallest building in the country – at around 100 meters and costing the region NIS 2.5 billion ($790 million). Its base will add to the existing Azrieli Shopping Center, but the building will also include office floors, 171 apartments, a hotel with around 250 rooms, and an outdoor chef’s restaurant and bar on the upper floors.

The next spiral tower from Azrieli Group in Tel Aviv. (PRNewsfoto/Azrieli Group)

Tel Aviv’s dominance of the skies is likely to be short-lived. Ramat Gan Mayor Carmel Shama Hacohen has approved a master plan to redevelop the Diamond Exchange, which includes a skyscraper more than 400 meters high.

The area’s scheme, designed by Israeli architect David Glor, will include a range of affordable housing options. The centerpiece of the plan is supposed to be the first Israeli building to have more than 100 floors. The Ben Arim Tower is already under construction near the stock exchange on Menachem Begin Road and is expected to be completed in 2023. It will be joined by a reconstructed 120-story diamond exchange that will be built over the next 10 years.

Speaking to the Globe Business daily, Hacohen said he is looking forward to making use of this building “to make Ramat Gan in Israel’s Abu Dhabi economically viable”.

In Haifa, the scene is different. Mayor Einat Kalish Rotem set a vision to double the city’s population to 600,000. But she is determined to preserve the relationship between the city, the Carmel mountain range, and the port, and believes that allowing the development of taller buildings will cut those views.

The city therefore suggests limiting buildings to a maximum of 30 stories, or less than 100 metres, and has set maximum heights for different parts of the city.

An aerial view of Haifa, January 17, 2021 (Matanya Tausig/Flash90)

It will allow construction of up to 22 floors in the western neighborhoods – Newt Peres, Neve David, Shaer Halia, and Kiryat Eliezer. 22-storey towers could also be built on Hahistadrut Street, the main traffic artery, and in the space left over by the removal of the petrochemical industry from Haifa Bay. Higher construction will be allowed in the lower eastern part of the city in the Neve Shanan neighborhood and the Svioni HaCarmel area, located below Haifa University.

But strict restrictions are being imposed in other parts of the city. In Hadar Hacarmel, the intention is to allow for an increase in the height of existing buildings up to only five to six stories, while in the central Hacarmel district above the German Colony and Bahai Garden construction of the park will be limited to 10 stories.

Kalisch-Rotem said there would be no bargaining with developers and that the priority would be to bring life back to the city center and old neighborhoods while preserving the city’s character. The only upper towers approved are two 54-storey buildings that connect the lower part of the Nesher quarry site to the cable cars and the Technion, which is seen as located outside the city of Haifa.

With the massive demand for housing, and limited land available, going up is one way to balance out the seemingly impossible circuit.

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