Thinking about the future has been integral to our architectural design for fifty years as architects. Through experience, we know the difference between “paper architecture” and building. In retrospect, I think that both are necessary. They feed one another.
Ideas evolve in time. They may be influenced by the times, certain philosophies and individuals, the kind of world one would want to build, and who we are. My ideas of social justice in Argentina began when I was twelve, first influenced by Marxism and soon after by Social Democracy. Disenchanted by Fidel Castro’s revolution and witnessing a surge of anti-Semitism in Argentina, triggered by Eichmann’s process and execution, I became aware of the Holocaust and Zionism.
When I entered the University of Buenos Aires School of Architecture, my natural hero was Le Corbusier. He combined social ideas oriented towards affordability for all, yet at the same time, he could express himself poetically. But the influences came not only from architecture. I became a regular reader of the French magazine “Planeta,” (Planete) rich with unconventional ideas about history, the arts, architecture, and the world’s future. Its motto was “We’re not strangers to anything strange.” In addition, I developed an early passion for good cinema.
I landed in Israel a few days after my 18th birthday and started to study architecture at the Technion. Soon, I became disenchanted with the school’s approach to design. After marrying Ruth, we moved to continue our studies in Rome. Our seven years in Italy were the most impactful in our lives. Bruno Zevi opened our eyes to the importance of historical knowledge to invent the future, and he also helped us discover Frank Lloyd Wright’s philosophy of organic architecture. This was reinforced by our encounter with architect Luigi Pellegrin, for whom we worked several years and who influenced our view of the future.
Through Zevi and Pellegrin, we started to see space and its perception in movement as the vital component of architecture. Through his projects and writings, Wright taught us about the unity between land, geography, culture, and the nature of materials. Yet, we soon realized that one can only learn architecture by experiencing it directly. This took us to travel extensively to see historic and contemporary architecture. We visited and photographed most of the works of great architects such as Le Corbusier, Aalto, Wright, and Carlo Scarpa, among many others. Philosophically, we endorsed Buckminster Fuller’s: “Think globally, act locally.”
Already conscious of population growth (three million in 1970) and the planet’s limited resources, our first main focus was on high-density urban design, prefabrication, and prioritizing pedestrians over cars. Our habitat conceptual project for 5,000 dwelling units, conceived a couple of months before the Yom Kippur War, won the first prize for high density one year after the war, in 1974. This led to our first commission by Israel’s Ministry of Housing. A follow-up came in 1986, adapting spatial housing to an existing neighborhood, Migdal Ha’Emek.
We moved to Los Angeles In late 1977. Our first house, completed in 1980, was our breakthrough in “thinking globally and acting locally.” It was an energy-conscious design (the word “sustainability” was not yet in use); it was the first house in Westwood to have solar collectors, and we built a vegetable garden that fed us for most of the year.
In 1986, SCI-arc sponsored a conceptual competition titled ”Places for People in the Year 2010.” The choice of the subject was free. We chose three subjects in parallel: a design for outer space, an urban corridor, and the ocean. Around the same time, we designed another design competition for a cinema center in Hollywood to test some of our ideas.
In 1991, we moved back to Israel. I used the transition time to fantasize, sometimes with humor, on some subjects: “My House;” a hospital; a “Museum for Embalmed Fleas;” “The Village of Lonely Souls;” The House of the Paper Worker;” and “Shikun” (affordable housing.) In 1992, the dean of architecture at the Technion, Prof. Michael Burt, called me to coordinate research on artificial islands, a subject I knew nothing about. By 1994, I became a future thinking on the subject.
We moved back to California in 2001. In 2006, taking as an opportunity a commission to design a master plan for the Queen Mary area, I conceived Westgate Tower as a Statue of Liberty equivalent on the west coast.
In 2009 I conceived a peace plan for the Middle East as an integral part of the Mediterranean Sea. As its main infrastructure, I proposed a speed train all around the Mediterranean.
Closer to the present, during the COVID-19 pandemic enclosure, I imagined, like Fuller, covering an entire city area with a dome over which one could grow fruits and vegetables. I also applied the concept of growing food along the vertical side of a housing tower., on low-raise housing and as an integral part of floating islands.
As I write this, approaching 2024, the challenges for architects remain enormous. Today’s world population is eight million, likely to become ten by 2050 and twelve by 2100; the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East will demand large-scale reconstruction; Africa’s population of 1.4 billion is projected to be 2.5 billion by 2050; massive migrations are likely to intensify; and climate change may make some significant parts of the Earth unlivable. The future may not be as I conceived it along our journey in architecture, but some of these ideas may become feasible.