EREZ SHANI Interview

It is really so interesting to explore the journey and quest of each architect from all across the world. No two architects have the same story to share with the world. Each one of them is unique and their quest is always filled with small-small anecdotes. For many, these anecdotes may seem trivial or even mundane, but having interviewed thousands of personalities in various fields since the last two plus decades – I can tell you one important thing for sure – these small-small anecdotes makes a successful individual of who they are today!

Israeli architect Erez Shani, Founder of Tel Aviv based Erez Shani Architects, is one such young upcoming architect in the global scenario. He is honest to confess, “I have not won any awards so far, but in near future I will for sure.” His quest in architecture started from his early days of being a tiny-tot. Today, he heads the architectural firm, who are doing some very interesting projects in Central Israel. In the year 2008, Erez graduated from the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London.

Cozy Ambiance

After his graduation, Erez worked in various reputed firms in London and Tel Aviv. Having honed his skills at various departments, scale of projects and learning the trade of the tricks, Erez’s confidence saw him establish Erez Shani Architects in Tel Aviv in the year 2014. In the last 8 years, Erez Shani has made a name for himself in Israel with projects ranging from multi-unit housing, high-end private residences, mixed-use master plan and interiors. Committed towards his clients’ brief and needs, Erez Shani is a delight to interact with.

Erez Shani, the young architect talks to Johnny D about his recent project ‘Bat Galim Duplex’ and related issues concerning architecture and climate crisis.

City Landscape View from Balcony

When you look back at your childhood ambition, did you always wanted to be an architect?

My parents remind me that I always demanded to be involved when the need to buy a new piece of furniture surfaced (smiles). I was also very fond of rearranging their bookshelves and the layout of the living room. By the first grade, I was drawing the façades of our small suburban house. So you see, the bug was there from an early age.

Drawing and Dining

What are the various projects Erez Shani Architects is currently busy with, in various cities and countries?

Our current work is located in 4 different municipalities within Israel. We are heavily engaged in housing projects in the dense urban centers of Central Israel, a University Research Building with a unique and challenging program, some high-end interiors, which are usually the rooftop apartments within buildings, which we design, and a free-standing new built art gallery on another University Campus site.

Bottom Floor Plan

When the client states the brief to you in the first meeting, what really goes in your mind?

What really goes through my mind is that the client gives me all the inspiration I need for the evolution of the preliminary concept. We always aim to ask the right questions and receive as many angles on the project from the clients. When we have a lot of written material, which are the results of a number of interactions with the client, we consolidate a set of values for the project. Then, we search for methods of translating those values into a layout, or a section, or a specific material strategy, depending on the project.

Study in Bedroom

What was the brief of the ‘Bat Galim Duplex’ project?

The brief for ‘Bat Galim Duplex’ involved a lot of emotion of the client. We designed the whole building, in which the Duplex is located. The original building on the site was a 1930’s International style design. The Local Preservation laws did not require us to preserve the existing building. However, it was the building which our client grew up in, as a child. So, the first value was to find a way to respect the old, even though the authorities did not ask us to.

This led to a design, which volunteers to preserve the ‘three front walls’ of the original building, and then design a completely new building behind the existing façade. Since our client, which was the developer of the whole building, chose to live in the Duplex in advance, we designed the Duplex in relation to the concept of the whole building and vice-versa. The main challenge of the project was to come up with a harmonious design, which involves preservation and personal substance in a new-built project.

Hallway

What major challenges did you anticipated on the real grounds while executing the project?

We had quite a few structural challenges. First of all, because of the site’s proximity to the seashore, the underground parking and the foundations had to be carefully designed and constructed within such problematic geological conditions. The design of the Duplex involved some elements, which were integral to the appearance of the building, such as a cantilevered exposed concrete pergola, which hovers above the rooftop terrace.

Stairs Leading to Top Floor

How did your team overcome them creatively as the project progressed?

The project demanded a lot of site visits and a very fruitful collaboration with the creative engineers of the project. Of course, there were some details we had to work on more than once or twice, along the way.

Describe the ‘Elegance of Design’ of the project from an interior architect’s perspective?

Since we were responsible for the architecture of the building and the interior of the Duplex, we always tried to test all the elements of the project in a very holistic manner, meaning that once we decided to design the top pergola, as an integral part of the façades of the whole project. We knew that we have to test its appearance and performance from within the Duplex. Same goes for the landscaping of the rooftop terrace. Trying to maximize exposure to the different viewpoints, while providing enough built-walls/partitions on which art and personal artefacts could be displayed.

Top Floor Plan

Please mention 5 major ‘Sustainability’ features you incorporated and its significant impact on the project.

Facing the street, there are two façades to the project. Each façade is partially open and partially closed, and both create a microclimate for the patio garden, all the lobbies and the entrances to all the apartments within the project.

For windows, which do not have exterior shading solutions a low e-glass was chosen in order to decrease radiation from the sun.

To the Southwest, from which the sun is very aggressive, we have a relatively opaque façade with very few openings.

Excluding the terracotta rod façade of the building, the rest of the building materials and finishes chosen for the project came from local suppliers, builders and craftsmen, and the construction crew was all locals.

Energy efficient VRF cooling systems were chosen for the apartments.

Simple and Elegant Master Bedroom

Every architect / interior designer leaves a ‘signature’ in their projects. What is your signature style?

I would argue that acquiring a ‘signature style’ would be the complete opposite of what we are trying to achieve-which is to design projects, which are the signatures of their cultural and geographic contexts and their clients.

What is the total area of the project, estimated cost and design-to-finish time period of the project?

The total built area of the Duplex is 200 sq. m with a 7 sq. m balcony on the bottom floor, and an 80 sq. m rooftop terrace. Since the project is for a private client, costs are undisclosed.

Open View of City Landscape

How would you describe to differentiate Israeli architecture from the Western and Asian architecture?

At the moment, I presume that Asia has much more wealth of local material resources, thus not relying on as much as Israel on foreign products. This has a direct effect on the architecture. The main reason that you do not see as much timber construction in Israel, as you see in Thailand, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, just to name a few.

Israel is still searching for its modern architectural culture, since it is just 74 years young, whereas many Asian cultures have been established since Centuries, thus allowing for many Asian works of architecture to be immediately categorized as Asian, whereas very few projects in Israel would be internationally recognized as ‘Israeli architecture’.

Chic Parallel Kitchen

In the past few decades, ‘Smart Cities of the World’ have been inundated catastrophically. How should the present Urban Planners overcome this major issue to make the cities flood-proof and livable?

It is definitely a challenge for the future but also a huge opportunity to expand and improve urban landscapes along coastal cities and settlements. If designed well, extra man-made dry land should prevent flooding, but not ruin the public’s relationship to the shore line. I think what makes projects along the shorelines of Manhattan extremely successful is that they enhance the urban landscape, add public recreational outdoors to the city, but still maximize views and access to the water.

Beautiful Evening View

If those artificial solutions lead to opportunities of extra built mixed-use programs by the water then obviously those would have to be site specific. In Bat Galim, there is a rear opportunity to expand the urban landscape by the water, because existing programs which do not need to exist by the water are planned to be evacuated in the near future, thus allowing for the expansion of the existing promenade, and the addition of new mixed-use programs to the north of the neighborhood.

Inside Out

How would you describe Erez Shani as a leader and a person?

It all starts with curiosity and being able to have an open mind. This is obviously the key to leading an architectural practice, just as much as it is essential to practicing architecture. I do my best to listen, receive constructive criticism from within and outside of the practice.

Structural Beauty

Which significant aspects of the global platform www.zerobeyond.com did you liked the most, and why?

I am impressed by the interviews of the professionals which are featured. Each interview is a thorough demonstration of a culture, an ethos and a character of a practice. After reading an interview, I feel I personally know a featured colleague, even though we have never met.

Staircase Detailing

Photographer: Tal Nisim

Image Courtesy: Erez Shani Architects

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