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An International Convention Center deserving of the name

by michael August 18 2008
City planningMunicipal news

 Binyanei HaUma

Extreme Makeover: Binyanei HaUma Edition

The International Convention Center (Binyanei HaUma) is Jerusalem's largest convention center, but as the city lurches fitfully toward its goal of becoming an international business and pleasure destination, a European-style metropolis where worldly sophistication meets old-world charm, the 50-year-old complex of buildings has increasingly proven itself not up to the task. The blah architecture, which could be charitably described as "functionalist," dates back to Israel's early era of socialist austerity, and doesn't meld well with whatever visual statement the Municipality is attempting to make with the Chords Bridge. The interior is not spacious enough to host industry conventions requiring the display of large machinery. Unlike other international conventional centers, the ICC lacks on-site hotel facilities. And it's located smack in the middle of the hot mess that is the road system around the city entrance - easy to see, but hard to actually get to.

Fortunately, that all is slated to change:

The ICC will be enlarged by 30,000 square meters, which will include the doubling of the parking space and three 33-story buildings housing office and commercial space and a hotel of the highest standards - the latter to be built by a private developer at a cost of $100 million. The buildings will also house theaters and cinemas.

"We are planning for the next 25 years," explains architect Arthur Spector. "Our goal is to build a place that will compete with the largest convention centers in Europe. Instead of the current entrance lobby and wide corridors, which have often been used as exhibition space, a specially designed 24-story building will be erected, with large exhibition halls with 12-meter ceilings.

"Every self-respecting convention center needs appropriate exhibition space," he continues. "At present, anyone who wants to hold a car or construction equipment exhibition, for example, cannot use the existing corridor space, so the center must be expanded to meet potential exhibitors' needs."

"A subway station will be built beneath the ICC, to make the center accessible to all forms of transportation, just like other such centers around the world. The plaza between the ICC and the Central Bus Station will be redesigned to include cafes and restaurants, creating a continuum of the center's open space," adds Spector.
To be honest, though, when the architect says "for the next 25 years," Jerusalemite gets a little nervous. Sure, he means an ambitious 25-year plan, but given the glacial progress on the light rail, one can easily envision a 25-year construction process instead.
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