Seen from the flat plaza that wraps around it on two sides, Preston Scott Cohen's radical addition to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art strikes a geometrically independent pose. But this angled and faceted block dressed in precast concrete actually connects with its context much more than it disrupts, continuing a legacy of innovative architecture that has made Tel Aviv a Bauhaus mecca since the 1920s. Called “the White City,” Tel Aviv's early-20th-century downtown boasts buildings by Erich Mendelsohn, a master plan by Patrick Geddes, and hundreds of International Style structures. In 2003, UNESCO declared it a World Cultural Heritage site.
Like those 20th-century buildings, Cohen's 195,000-square-foot museum addition expresses a faith in the latest technology. And like much traditional Mediterranean architecture, it hides an intriguing core within a cool, white exterior. The museum's new wing—called the Herta and Paul Amir Building—works from the inside out. Spiraling around a dramatic 87-foot-high atrium that the architect calls the Lightfall, the building takes visitors through a series of spatial experiences that are complex at its center and simpler at its perimeter. In its construction, too, the project started from the inside, with precast-concrete panels manufactured on-site in an area that is now a gallery. After casting the panels, workers attached them to the building's steel frame to form a faceted, weatherproof envelope. (See sidebar, A Folded and Faceted Facade)