Crossing borderlines is a state of mind. It is not just about traversing national boundaries. It is about embarking into explorations out of our zone of comfort. It may be a change of profession, a change of lifestyle or simply following your bliss.
Borderlines are falling all across the board. Rigid concepts are being challenged by the spread of information. Different disciplines interact with one another. Over-specialization, emphasized by conventional education and needed for economic survival, may become destructive of the only thing that we can really control: the use of our lifetime.
The following story is our story of crossing borderlines. It includes successes and failures, hesitations, ambiguities, mistakes. The unplanned frequently derails and becomes dominant. The unexpected becomes a source of discovery.
Boy is born in Buenos Aires, in a bourgeois Jewish home. His father landed in Argentina in 1925. He came from a shtetl near Kishinev, Bialik’s “City of Slaughter.” Starting from zero and without language, in four years, he brings fourteen members of his family from Russian Bessarabia. In ten years, he becames an industrialist of wool textiles. The boy’s mother, fifth daughter of parents who came from Odessa in 1905, was born in Basavilbaso, one of Baron Hirsch’s Jewish colonies in Argentina. She has a magnetic personality that attracts people wherever she is at.
Boy has a happy childhood in the big city. Loving parents, aunts and cousins surround him. His world is framed. He goes to school, gets private lessons in English, Yiddish and piano, plays soccer on the street, and spends long summer vacations riding horses in the sierras of Cordoba, or fooling around on the beaches of Mar del Plata. Yet by the age of eleven, his consciousness is transformed. His parents take him on a long trip to several European countries, Israel and the United States. He walks the streets of Paris, London, Rome, Amsterdam, New York. In Tel Aviv he sees kids of his age going to school in shorts and sandals. He realizes that the world is larger than he thought. He realizes that there are many different rules of the game.
Girl is born in Khrenovka, one of 132 Ukrainian villages of Transnistria, where 150,000 Jews were murdered or starved to death. Her parents are among the lucky survivors. Her father is a dentist and their captors needed dentists. Her mother is seventeen when the baby-girl is born. She is eight months old when Transnistria is liberated by the Russians. They move to Bucharest, to wait for the spring to reach Palestine. But the Communists take over Rumania and lock the doors. They will have to wait twenty years to leave.
Girl grows up happy in Romania. She lives under a regime that pampers children as a way of indoctrination. She proudly wears a red young pioneer scarf. On winters’ early mornings, before going to school, she trains as a promising young swimmer. She gets inexpensive tickets to the opera. And she goes on frequent hiking excursions to the Carpathians, where nature is unspoiled and majestic.
Boy becomes a rebellious teenager. He skips schooldays. He steals cigarettes from his father. He shuns religion. He becomes an admirer of Fidel Castro’s revolution – until his father takes him to Cuba, to see reality by himself. He gets the message. Now he needs a new ideal. He also needs to distance himself from his powerful mother, a charismatic and domineering Secretary General of Argentina’s WIZO.
By way of reading Stefan Zweig, Theodor Hertzl and Leon Uris, boy discovers Zionism and learns about the Holocaust. With Eichmann’s capturing, trial and execution, Argentina’s latent anti-Semitism resurfaces. Graffiti with swastikas cover many city walls. He reaches a decision: aliyah to Israel. The entire family opposes it. “Israel is a country at war,” they say. “Israel is the future,” he argues. Before his eighteenth’s birthday, after one year at the school of architecture, he leaves Buenos Aires, headed for Haifa. He is admitted to the Technion’s school of architecture. A room at a students’ hostel on campus waits for him. “This is home now,” he says, looking at Haifa’s bay from a ridge of the Carmel Mountains.
Girl is a top student at Bucharest’s most prestigious high school, Liceul Lazar. Upon graduation, she decides to study architecture. By the time she finishes the school’s first year, her parents get the green light to leave for Israel. They have three months to pack and take with them the allowed “80 kg. per person of personal belongings; no money, no jewelry.” She does not want to leave. She has good friends. She likes her school. She knows nothing about Israel. But once she is in the airplane, she realized that the entire world is open to her. After two weeks in Naples and a “must-see” visit to Athens’ Parthenon, she reaches Israel. Her parents settle in Tel Aviv. “This is home now,” she says. She learns Hebrew. She is admitted at the Technion’s school of architecture’s second year.
Boy is restless. He travels all over Israel. He spends time in Kibbutz Sde Nehemia, in Upper Galilee. He travels frequently to Eilat, “the end of the world,” where he sleeps on the beach. He loves Acre. “It has historic thickness.” He dislikes the Technion’s “technological, non-humanistic approach to architecture.”
Girl is a beautiful petite. She looks like a teenager. She is a good student. She never misses a class. Boy is tall and thin. His black long hair covers half of his face. He dislikes imposed discipline.
Boy meets girl in a classroom. They find out that they have a common interest in good cinema: Italian Neorealism, French Nouvelle Vague, Bergman, Korosawa. They decide to create a cinematheque in school. They borrow reels from foreign consulates.
One day boy persuades girl to let go classes and accompany him to visit Nazareth. Reluctantly, she agrees. They spend the day together. They visit the new cathedral under construction. They explore the city’s souk. They have lunch at a restaurant where they are the only non-Arab customers. They visit a new Israeli town under construction, Upper Nazaret. Stepping down from an unfinished building, they stumble and roll downhill. They lough at the accident. They fall in love. Nine months later they get married under the sky of Jerusalem.
Three weeks after their wedding boy and girl move to Rome, to continue their architecture studies. They love the city and its people. They study Italian intensively. In three months, Italian becomes their common language. At school they are “adopted” by two great mentors: Bruno Zevi, an historian and critic of architecture, and Luigi Pellegrin, a visionary architect. They discover the importance of history’s knowledge for the invention of the future and the hardships of committed design.
To see architecture “in the flesh,” they travel extensively – hitchhiking, by train, by car. They visit most of Italy. The travel throughout Europe: to Finland in the north, to London in the west, to Istanbul in the east. They visit Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. They spend four months in the United States, where they photograph over one hundred Frank Lloyd Wright buildings throughout twenty-five states. They meet and interview world-famous architects: Carlo Scarpa, James Stirling, John Johansen, Bruce Goff, Lloyd Wright, Paolo Soleri, Oscar Niemeyer, Louis Kahn.
When everything seems to be perfect in Rome – a great job, a nice attic in the historic center, dear friends – boy’s Zionism brings them back to Israel. Just one month before the beginning of the Yom Kippur War, boy and girl start their own architectural practice in Tel Aviv. During the war’s blackout, they get busy as 7/24 on-call volunteer drivers for the Ichilov hospital. A few months later boy is drafted as a reserve soldier. He serves in Israel’s air force bases in the Sinai mountains and in the Suez Canal. He becomes familiar with the desert’s sights. “Moses may have seen this,” he thinks.
In parallel, boy and girl continue to build their first home in Tel Aviv, on the top floor of a ten-floor building. Its design becomes a breakthrough. It is widely published. They also win a major urban design competition. It is followed by a large commission from the Ministry of Housing. Success is at the door. The sky seems to be the limit. But Menachem Begin wins the elections and stops all public works. The country falls into a deep recession. It is time for “an intelligent vacation at an American university.” Getting a Master degree is a good excuse. After being accepted by Columbia, Yale, Michigan, UCLA and Rice, they choose Los Angeles.
During their two-year of studies at UCLA, the young couple, Ruth and Ricky, decide to raise a family, to build a home. It will be the first house in Westwood with solar collectors. It will have a vegetable garden. Their daughter, Gabby, is born in Santa Monica. They design their house and studio in Westwood to be “child-proof.” They even design “a townhouse” for Copper, their Golden Retriever. When finished, their residence hits the cover of the Los Angeles Times magazine and of other prestigious publications. They create a unique practice that combines architecture, real estate brokerage and development of architectural houses on the Westside. Most of their clients become lifetime friends.
Besides their business-related activities, R&R also explore other venues. “I’ve always been an amateur,” said Wright. In that vein, they cross borderlines into different disciplines. Ruth paints large canvases and produces ceramic sculptures. Ricky writes essays, lectures and photographs. He also publishes six chapbooks of poetry. His editor, Jack Grapes, suggests changing his pen-name to Rick. “Ricky sounds childish,” Jack says. Rick sticks.
The early 1990’s recession ends R&R’s 15-year residence in Westwood. They move back to Israel. It becomes a highly productive decade. They are commissioned to design a senior housing project in Jaffa that becomes a landmark. In 2000 the American Institute of Architects awards it as one of the best projects built by AIA members overseas. That same year The Ministry of Housing commissions from them the design of a master plan for a 3,000 dwelling-unit neighborhood in Beer Sheva, Ramot E. In parallel, Rick teaches architecture and urban design at the Technion. He chairs the Graduating Students Final Project. He also heads the Technion’s first (and only) delegation to an urban design workshop between Israeli, Palestinian and Italian architects in Palermo, Sicily. The city’s mayor gets involved. The Italian media spreads the event.
Life seems stabilized in Israel, but in 2001 Rick gets an offer that he cannot refuse. The University of California at Irvine invites him to be the project manager of a research building to be built: the California Institute for Telecommunication and Information Technology. R&R rent a house on campus. In one year Ruth commutes four times between Tel Aviv and Los Angeles, to handle their projects in Israel. However, the Second Intifada brings everything to a halt. They have to take a tough decision. They decide to return to Southern California. They settle in downtown Long Beach. Within less than a year the city’s mayor appoints Rick as a board member of the Redevelopment Agency. It is a challenging position. During four years, he gets in touch with people from all walks of life, from the powerful to the homeless. He becomes influential in the development of the new promenade in downtown.
Their daughter Gabby evolves from being a Westside’s “Jewish American Princess” to become a well-rounded adult. She serves in the Israeli Army’s Staff College. She graduates in Physiology and Psychology from the University of Arizona. She graduates as a physician from Semmelweiss’ School of Medicine in Budapest. She returns to Israel for her residency in psychiatry.
After forty years of practice as architects, R&R decide to explore some of their other passions. Ruth becomes an urban farmer with state-of-the-art technology of vertical gardens. Her pioneering rooftop farm in downtown LA marks a breakthrough. Rick goes into filmmaking of architecture documentaries and produces more than eighty films. The screening of the “Westwood LA” documentary brings a full house to Westwood’s public library.
One day Rick meets a veteran Coldwell Banker realtor who remembers him from his previous life in real estate. “Why don’t you join us?” she sais. “You can bring a unique quality and perspective to real estate: your architect’s eye.” He is tempted. The suggestion sounds like joining “the Harvard of real estate.” He says “yes.” After having practiced architecture for over three decades, Rick decides to cross another borderline. He is back to the Westside. From his desk at a 10th floor, in Brentwood, he looks at a new horizon.
Real estate is a full-time job. He realizes that, although he can drive throughout the Westside blindfolded, he needs to relearn “what’s going on.” He goes on “caravans” every week. In one year he visits over one thousand houses and condominiums, with values ranging from one to thirty million dollars. He puts architecture “in the freezer” and keeps his filmmaking passion on the simmer burner. He focuses on the intricacies that make a transaction successful, from the time an offer is presented to the time when escrow closes. October of 2015 sees a new change: Rick leaves Coldwell Banker to recreate his own real estate firm: Projects Real Estate. It is an important move but, most likely, it is not the last one. “The best is still to come,” he thinks. He has a long agenda.
By the end of 2015, Rick reaches a critical decision, consistent with his believes, as expressed in his blogs published in The Times of Israel: to return to Israel. His choice of the returning day is symbolic: April 1, 2016. While the United States celebrates “Fool’s Day,” he chooses to begin his Tenth Life by renaming it “Hope Day.” After five months in Israel, he returns to Los Angeles to celebrate, on September 4th, their fiftieth anniversary. Tenth Life’s – Chapter One – is closed. A new chapter begins. He creates ArchiDocu.
In December of 2016, a new surprise knocks at the door. Rick is asked to give a class on “How to Look at Architecture” at OLLI, California State University Long Beach. He decides to do it through architecture documentaries. During an eight-week class (April-May 2017) he presents twenty-seven documentaries produced and directed by Rick. One hundred people register for the class. The success goes beyond his wildest expectations. The class is repeated in 2018 and, in addition, he gives six classes at the Skirball Cultural Center. New classes are requested for 2019 both by The Skirball Cultural Center and by OLLI/CSULB. This time brings new footage with seven short documentaries on Paris, Berlin, and Rome.
The life-rollercoaster keeps going on. The unknown is the only certainty. As the Yiddish proverb says, “Men tracht und Gott lacht” – “Man plans and God laughs.”