In the late 1950s, when Teddy Kollek, the future mayor of Jerusalem, first suggested founding a national encyclopedic museum little more than a decade after Israel won its independence, many thought the idea pure folly. The young country was still struggling for its economic and political survival. But Vienna-born Kollek believed culture was “as vital a form of sustenance as the roof over one’s head and the food on one’s plate.”
The Israel Museum opened in 1965, in a Modernist complex nestled on the Judean Hills near the Knesset — the national parliament building — and the Hebrew University. Since that time, it has become the most eminent cultural institution in the region and one of the leading art and archaeology museums in the world, with collections growing exponentially over the past four decades. Now 45 years later, the museum has reopened after a $100 million expansion and renovation. The New York firm of James Carpenter Design Associates (JCDA) was responsible for adding new structures, while Efrat-Kowalsky Architects of Tel Aviv refurbished the museum’s stunning array of low-rise pavilions, spilling down a gently sloped 20-acre site. Together, they reaffirm the museum’s status as the finest contemporary architectural landmark in the Holy City. Another Tel Aviv—based firm, A. Lerman Architects, served as local project architects.