“The sun never knew how wonderful it was until it fell on the wall of a building,” said the great architect Louis Kahn. That sun shines brightly on a Tel Aviv house designed by Israeli architect Pitsou Kedem. In the modernist tradition of the White City, the 580-square-metre residence in the Savion district explores the notion of minimalism, reducing the space to its purest form and creating depth through the play of light. “It’s more about the shadow than the light,” explains the award-winning architect. Kedem adapted the ideas from the 1933 essay “In Praise of Shadows,” in which Japanese novelist Jun’ichirō Tanizaki meditated on the poetic nature of darkness in Japanese aesthetics. e seminal essay had an impact on Japanese designers across elds, from Rei Kawakubo to Tadao Ando, and also gained prominence across the globe in the 1970s when it was translated into English. “We delight in the mere sight of the delicate glow of fading rays clinging to the surface of a dusky wall,” writes Tanizaki, “there to live out what little life remains to them.”
Here, the bright Israeli sun is filtered through a Corten checkerboard screen wrapped around the front second storey facade of the boxy concrete structure. The weathered steel envelope creates dynamic light patterns throughout the day, spotlighting three distinct layers of the dwelling: the outdoor space, the indoor space, and the outdoor/indoor space. The outdoor/indoor space makes up the majority of the home, in which the spacious living room and dining room open up on both sides, one leading to the covered front entrance and the other to the partially sheltered backyard pool deck. “In Israel, you can live outside, but you need to have a protected area from the sun,” says Kedem of the double-height covered courtyard outfitted with whimsical white steel Family chairs by Living Divani. Although the home is designed for a single older gentleman, the common areas are meant for large friends and family gatherings, with ample space for children to run around on the shiny natural stone floors. Faithful to the “less is more” Ludwig Mies van der Rohe motto, the furnishings are sparse, with a sculptural blue Ligne Roset Ploum sofa by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec framing the seating area. In the dining area, Foscarini Rock pendants hang over the MDF Italia Lim table and Eames Wire chairs. Behind it, the custom wood shelf provides a peek into the private study area next to the minimal Bulthaup kitchen.
Personal quarters take up the entirety of the home’s second floor, which houses the bedrooms and bathrooms, and the lofted space allows for continuous views of the ground floor below. That constant visual flow also comes through the second iteration of the built-in cabinetry: a magnificent wooden bookshelf that mirrors the checkerboard pattern of the Corten steel exterior. For the architect, there is no sep- aration between the home’s exterior and its interior finishings. “What we’re trying to achieve is just one language for the [entire] project: one solid and very clear language. It’s the same fingerprint, the same house.”
Along with Tanizaki’s observations on shadows, Kedem also reinterpreted a local architectural element while creating the light-diffusing steel skin: Mashrabiya, an Arabic term for a type of wooden carved lat- ticework window common in traditional Islamic architecture. “It’s so strong, the light and the sun, so you need to diffuse it in a way.” Aside from sun protection, Mashrabiya is also used for privacy, as the perforations have an ability to generate outside views while shielding the inside. Historically, Mashrabiya has also been rendered through a brick composition, similar to Kedem’s weathered steel. On a smaller scale, in the upstairs bathroom, wooden slats are used to diffuse the skylight.
The desert climate also calls for solid walls to keep cool—in this case, the traditional stone is replaced by concrete. Kedem likens the concrete wall to a blank canvas, on which the sun’s rays can paint a dynamic picture, lending softness to the very rigid surface. For the architect, it’s about creating a timeless image, or as he calls it, “frozen in time” in the context of Tel Aviv’s modernist surroundings. The city’s Bauhaus minimalism is the ultimate backdrop on which to test the sun’s whimsical light play. “It changes every hour. There is a very nice contrast between something that is timeless, or forever, and something that’s changing all the time during the day.” Reflecting both Kahn’s and Tanizaki’s sentiments, the beauty of architecture is in the shadows.
Photos courtesy of Pitsou Kedem Architects; initial design by Irene Goldberg of Pitsou Kedem; in charge architect: Hila Sella; Styling for photography by Eti Buskila and Irene Goldberg.