The subversive utopia: Louis Kahn and the question of the national Jewish style in Jerusalem

Yasir Mohammed Sakr, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

This dissertation examines the critical role of modern architects in shaping and transforming national Israeli symbols with special regard to Jerusalem. According to customary views, Zionist symbols image the secular state of Israel as an emancipation of the Jewish nation from the oppressive Diaspora past. The first part of this study analyzes pre-1967 designs, by architects including Baehrwald, Geddes, Mendelsohn, "Bauhaus" practitioners, and Rau that attempted to construct a Jewish style relating these national symbols. Images of the Diaspora in their designs are shown to conceal areas of tension with official Zionist memory. Louis Kahn's later design of the Khurvah synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem creatively exploited this tension to redefine the national style. As a case study, Kahn's design distinctly shows that the shaping of national symbols and memory is a process contested not only by competing state institutions, but by marginal elements, in this case individual architects. This challenges the predominant view that national symbols are forged, consolidated, and disseminated by cohesive state institutions, collective power-structures, and ruling elites. The present study scrutinizes and pieces together discrepant archival documents, drawings, and accounts of what were commonly regarded as unrelated intentions, interpretations, events, policies, and projects in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, to reveal a crucial unrecognized aspect of Kahn's Khurvah design. I specifically analyze the interplay of Kahn's double metaphor with the competing traditional and national symbols of Jerusalem, such as the old Khurvah, the western Wall, and most importantly, the mythical Temple and the Dome of the Rock. The analysis reconstructs the continued drastic impact of the transformation of Kahn's idiosyncratic metaphor into an authoritative symbol, even more into a subversive utopia, on shaping Jerusalem and national memory. The impact of Kahn's paradoxical metaphor is traced through analysis of subsequent archaeological excavation, planning and designs for the Jewish Quarter and its structures, including the western Wall plaza, the Cardo, and the Khurvah synagogue proposed by Safdie, Lasdun, Bugod and others.

Subject Area

Architecture|Cultural anthropology|Middle Eastern history

Recommended Citation

Sakr, Yasir Mohammed, "The subversive utopia: Louis Kahn and the question of the national Jewish style in Jerusalem" (1996). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9636209.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI9636209

Share

COinS